Last week in our antiracism discussion group (which is still going strong almost two years in), one discussion thread focused on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. While not of a different race, Samaritans were still seen as outsiders by the Jews in Jesus’ time. The impulse of the “good” Samaritan to care for the robbery victim, and even to go the extra mile of taking him to an inn and promising to pay “whatever more you spend” for an unknown stranger, is magnanimous indeed. One of our group members commented, though, that we adulate the good Samaritan without actually emulating him.

Yes, these are big words, and they feel appropriate for this big idea. There’s a huge gulf for most of us between adulation and emulation. It’s easy to adulate (revere, praise) those we admire. We talk about all the good things that Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa did, or the impact that Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis have had on American political discussions about race. But seldom do we truly emulate (imitate, copy) what they actually did.

I can’t help but think of what’s happening on the world stage as I ponder this. Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine and captured the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which I presume he will use as a way to threaten the health of everyone in Europe if they don’t give him everything he wants. Last week, a member of the Republican party condemned the former president for his “adulation” of Putin, saying it “aided our enemies.” I would say that the former president has always adulated Putin—and even sought to emulate Putin after he lost the 2020 presidential election. Fortunately, there were (barely?) enough checks and balances in place to prevent him from overturning the election results.

This is ugly stuff, and yes, you and I are mostly relegated to the sidelines. Especially when strongmen have steadily built up the power and the sycophants that allow them to act with impunity, there’s very little we can do. One role model that many admire is coming to mind, however: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This German Lutheran pastor and activist didn’t just adulate Jesus. He opposed the Nazi regime from its earliest days (for the sake of “future generations”) and was eventually executed for his role in resisting Hitler. He wasn’t “successful,” if his goal was to bring down Hitler. But perhaps he made some difference in whom we adulate, and perhaps even dare to emulate.

I wonder about the status of resistance in Russia right now (including and beyond the thousand-plus protesters who have been arrested) and pray for whoever might be in a position to make a difference. I pray for each of us to be open to when God might call us to move beyond adulation to emulation, be it standing up for voting and women’s rights here in America or fighting rising dictatorships around the world.

I also pray for every innocent soldier and civilian caught up in this conflict in Ukraine. The vast majority of them are helpless pawns in Putin’s game…just as were Jesus’ fellow Jews who had to carry Roman soldiers’ gear for a mile two thousand years ago.

Ash Wednesday is two days from now. Let us pray for all whose bodies will turn to ash sooner than they would in a time of peace, and for all of us to take seriously our calling to follow Christ. In what ways might you emulate Jesus, not just adulate him?

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