“… And a large crowd followed Jesus and pressed in on him.” – Mark 5:24
Back in the 15th Century, back when medieval serfs harvested the land with ox and with sickle, there once lived a man named Thomas a Kempis. He grew up along and around the Rhine – the river that runs its course from high in the Swiss Alps, through the German broad land and to the wet marshes of Netherlands. Eventually, Thomas followed that river up to the Dutch lands, and one day he encountered a group of religious monks, educating and caring for the poor. He was attracted. He was intrigued. He, too, became a monk.
Then, some years down the road in 1441, Thomas published a book by the title The Imitation of Christ. With that, Thomas a Kempis became famous. His work spread throughout Europe – becoming one of the first true “modern devotionals.”
For Thomas a Kempis, imitating Christ meant retreating; it meant stepping out of the craziness of the world around him and stepping into the quietness and peace of a small room. He would pray; he would meditate. And, to be fair, he spent a lot of his time stepping back into the commotion of the every day. He tutored young students. He did works of charity. Still, though, Thomas stressed the importance of imitating Christ by stepping away from the world.
But, some people do not have that freedom. Some of us do not have the opportunity to leave the world behind, to step onto the peaceful grounds of a monastery.
I think specifically of those of you who are parents. “Peace, quietness: are you kidding me? Yeah, I would love to be able to walk into a small, orderly room, to kneel down before a little cross or read the Bible with a candle lit. But, have you seen my house? One room? How about one corner? That would be nice.”
I think about those of you who work stressful, get-up-before-dark, get-home-after-dark jobs: “Must be nice. My retreat is the few hours I get at home. Then, it’s up and off again. If I stepped away from the world, I wouldn’t have a job.”
I think about you teachers, and small-business owners, and even you retired ones who help out your own kids by taking care of their kids. There are many of us live who with daily, pressing demands. We cannot imitate Christ like Thomas a Kempis did.
But, maybe … just maybe, there is another way to imitate Christ.
The same Jesus who intentionally and purposefully took time for prayer and solitude also was intentional about entering into the pressing crowds and the masses. He lived with the people: getting dinner ready, on the job, at the market. He served the people, setting aside his own “rights” in order to help others.
So, isn’t the mother who puts her own desires on hold to make lunch for her children imitating Christ? Isn’t she like Christ when she puts a plate of spaghetti and carrots before her children (the very same spaghetti and carrots that she knows she will have to clean up off the table and floor)? Yes, she is.
And, isn’t the guy who keeps getting up each morning to serve others – to do a job – also imitating Christ? Isn’t his diligence and labor its own type of worship and devotion? Yes, that too is imitating the way of Jesus.
The reality is we need both rhythms in our life. We need periods of quiet retreat where God can make us like Jesus. And, we need periods of active service, where we can live like Jesus. Imitating Jesus means taking time for resting in God’s love … and … it means serving others with the love of God.