In one sense, this should be expected. Christian theology has Jesus Christ being fully man and fully God. Not everything he said and did would be appropriate (or possible) for a mere mortal to imitate. In another sense, however, Christians should be expected to act like Christ. According to orthodox theology, Jesus revealed both something of the nature of God and something of the nature of humankind. Jesus showed what it means to be human. It stands to reason, then, that the followers of Christ would strive to follow his example.
What is that example? If there’s an overarching theme to Christ’s ministry and passion, a logic that it follows, I would say it’s total, unconditional self-emptying or self-giving. Theologians call this kenosis, a word initially used to describe the humility of God becoming man (Phil 2:6), but since used also in reference to his complete obedience and service to the Father, his willingness to give his life for the expiation of sins, and his absolute, unconditional gift of self for the good of creation. According to the gospels, Jesus followed the logic of preservation as well–e.g. working a job, attending a wedding, eating food–but these acts were all done for the sake of his ministry. Jesus followed the logic of preservation so that he could better follow the logic of self-emptying.
Should total, unconditional self-emptying also be the logic of the Christian life? In his preaching, Jesus implied that it should. Following him meant selling everything you had and giving it to the poor. To be his disciple, you had to hate your family and even your own life. The early disciples took him at his word. Many were martyred, offering their lives as a witness to those who killed them. They gave everything to help build the Kingdom of God, and the Church celebrates them for their sacrifice. They gave all despite the dangers to themselves and those under their care. They believed bringing souls into the Kingdom was more important than their physical lives. Spreading the gospel deserved their full devotion.
Interestingly, over the course of the Church, this logic of self-emptying is rare among Christians, and not only because Christians try and fail. It’s rare also because it’s not always expected, not even by the Church. Why? Perhaps because this logic isn’t rational. Not if the logic of preservation, built into our nature, rules. Not in comparison to the logic of prosperity built into our culture. It doesn’t work. You can’t build a social order on total self-emptying, not one we’d recognize anyway. Our species seeks to perpetuate itself. Our social arrangements do as well. For the “world,” so to speak, the logic of preservation largely reigns.
This goes for Christians as well. As they work to live long and prosper, Christians might also work a spirit of kenosis into their lives, but it’s not the primary ethos that governs all that they do. They must give something to the good of others, but not everything. In some cases, denominations even permit the faithful to act against the good of others when one’s own good or the common good necessitates it. Traditionally, Christians can kill justly under certain conditions.They can destroy others, rationally and licitly. Christ chose self-emptying over self-preservation, but his followers, by and large, don’t have to be as radical or irrational.
I’m certainly not. The entries on my Google calendar do not give witness to a life lived in service to others. I don’t even try, as a Christian, to live ultimately according to the logic of kenosis. This is sort of odd because it’s precisely this logic that most attracts me to the Christian life.
The rare Christian is as radically irrational as Christ. The church honors them for this, but why? Because these souls successfully lived the Christian life? Or because they successfully went above and beyond it?