As a child, I was taught correctly that a priest is "another Christ." There's just one problem with the statement: My teachers failed to inform me that he's another Christ not because he's a priest, but because he's a Christian.
I, a priest, am another Christ, not because of what happened to me in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome in December 1964, but because of what happened to me in St. Mary's parish church in Belleville, Illinois, in February 1940. Followers of Jesus become "other Christs" at Baptism, not at ordination.
At times, our quest to honor our Church's clergy comes at the price of dishonoring everyone else. One person's dignity should never diminish anyone else's dignity. Considering Sunday's Scripture passages, it's good to remember and proclaim that all followers of Jesus are "other Christs," since only those who acknowledge they stand in Jesus' place will be able to understand the second and third readings.
God's water
Long before Paul and Luke, Jeremiah announced that all followers of God must be joined to God (Jer 17:5-8). The prophet taught that an individual without ties to Yahweh "is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season." But the person who trusts and hopes in Yahweh "is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; in the year of drought, it shows no distress, but still bears fruit." Jeremiah knew that only those who absorb Yahweh's life actually live a full life.
Six hundred years after Jeremiah's oracle, followers of Jesus significantly advanced the prophet's insights. They became convinced that their ties with Jesus were more intimate than even a root's absorption of water. Paul, the earliest Christian author, believed that whoever dies and rises with Jesus actually becomes one with Jesus.
Listen carefully to his argument against those in the Corinthian community who accept Jesus' resurrection, but deny their own resurrection (I Cor 15: 12, 16-20). "If the dead are not raised," the Apostle writes, "then Christ was not raised!" Paul teaches that we and Jesus are totally one: What happens -- or doesn't happen -- to one of us happens -- or doesn't happen -- to the other.
If Jesus died, then we die; if Jesus rose, then we rise. Jesus isn't just some historical religious figure who shared sacred, secret teachings with His followers and pointed out a special moral road for them to walk down. Jesus is someone who both taught and showed His followers how to become one with Him. Anyone who makes a commitment to imitate Christ actually becomes another Christ.
Follow Christ
The basic insight that the Christian is another Christ also supplies the background against which we must listen to the Beatitudes (Lk 6:17, 20-26). Luke reduces Matthew's well-known list of eight to four (and adds four curses). But he still presumes that Jesus' followers, being other Christs, are expected to do nothing more than their leader has already done.
This imitation has a double effect. First, only those who are one with Jesus appreciate the blessings which can come from poverty, hunger, weeping and insults. The key to happiness lies in embracing such hardships "because of the Son of Man." We accept them because we're convinced Jesus attained life by accepting them.
Second, Luke and all early Christian writers believe we achieve our unity with Jesus by daily trying to do the things Jesus did. The commitment embodied in Baptism is a commitment to accept Jesus' value system; to be determined to break through the death of pain and suffering in order to reach the life which lies at their core. In those moments of dying and rising, we and Jesus become indistinguishable.
If only the priests in the community are other Christs, then, following Paul and Luke's theology, only the priests will ever rise from the dead or find blessings in imitating Jesus. Fortunately, we now realize that Jesus' image is to be found in all His followers -- the other Christs to whom we priests are called to minister.
If we don't recognize Jesus in them, it might be very difficult for them to recognize Him in us.