When I was a kid, I had a hero. He seemed to be a smart and powerful man, committed to our country and working to make the world a better place to live. This man had his ups and downs in life, seen success and ridicule, but did some incredible things as President of the United States. Sure, there were those who made fun of him, belittled him, but when I was in high school I had a sense we had a firm and gentle hand on the tiller. When my classmates attacked him in Social Studies class, I defended him. I trusted my hero, I felt safe with Richard Nixon as president of the United States. Needless to say, my viewpoint changed after 1974 when the entire story came to light. I’ve been reluctant to elevate my heroes very high since then.
Paul in ministry was a man with a mission but a questionable past. He studied with great rabbi Gamaliel, was a Roman citizen by birth, and a tentmaker by trade. Started as a persecutor of the Church, knocked from his feet and blinded on the road to Damascus, healed, went to Arabia to process this, at first rejected then accepted by Apostles. Called to be part of great Antioch community, where people first known as Christian, and sent from there as missionary. He knew his weakness very well.
His disadvantages: not a great preacher, argumentative at times, restless, strong willed. His advantages: persistence stood up for what was just, humble, didn’t put himself forward, willing to so where he was sent. He worked hard to support himself so he didn’t have to rely on the churches he visited for his support. His validation was he offered them the Gospel for free; he asked people to trust him because he asked nothing from them.
Christ wasn’t looking for fame, either. If He’d had marketing people, He would have driven them crazy, telling everyone he healed not to say anything. We can’t blame the guy who was healed from leprosy, who went from being a victim, a non-person, to health beyond hope. Jesus tried to stay off the radar, didn’t want to be a public figure, but people kept coming to Him because they knew from His selflessness that He was the real deal, the real presence of God.
Christ heals us from sin as he healed the leper. He commissions us as He did Paul. We are called even though we aren’t the best or aren’t perfect. It’s incredible at times, we may wonder what God sees in us, but he’s given us a great trust anyway.
Imitating Christ doesn’t make us completely like Christ, but makes us the best we can be. We don’t have to be heroes any more than Paul did, any more than Christ presented himself. Our imitation of Christ helps us show imperfectly that one who is perfect love, the one we encounter in the Eucharist. Christ calls us to share his hope and healing with the world.