Imitate Jesus? Only in His Cross: An Excerpt from John Howard Yoder

Before drawing any affirmative conclusions let us first note the absence of the concept of imitation as a general pastoral or moral guideline. There is in the New Testament no Franciscan glorification of barefoot itinerancy. Even when Paul argues the case for celibacy, it does not occur to him to appeal to the example of Jesus. Even when Paul explains his own predilection for self-support there is no appeal to Jesus’ years as a village artisan. Even when the apostle argues strongly the case for his teaching authority, there is no appeal to the rabbinic ministry of Jesus. Jesus’ trade as a carpenter, his association with fishermen, and his choice of illustrations from the life of the sower and the shepherd have throughout Christian history given momentum to the romantic glorification of the handcrafts and the rural life; but there is none of this in the New Testament. It testifies throughout to the life and mission of a church going intentionally into the cities in full knowledge of the conflicts which awaited believers there. That the concept of imitation is not applied by the New Testament at some those points where Franciscan and romantic devotion has tried most piously to apply it, is all the more powerfully a demonstration of how fundamental the thought of participation in the suffering of Christ is when the New Testament church sees it as guiding and explaining her attitude to the powers of the world. Only at one point, only on one subject – but then consistently, universally – is Jesus our example: in his cross. 

John Howard Yoder in The Politics of Jesus

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