AS IF

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14    Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Jeff Davidson

The two words “as if” have been standard English for a long time. Used together, they mean “as would be the case if”, for example, “She behaved as if he weren’t there.” For a little while, though, back in 1995 and for a few years after, the phrase “as if” carried an additional meaning.

In the movie Clueless, “as if” becomes not just a way to shorten an otherwise too-long sentence; it also becomes a putdown. According to the Urban Dictionary website, the meaning is similar to “Yeah, right.” The meaning in this case is that you are definitely not into that, or not going to do that, or not in agreement with that. The usage example given in the Urban Dictionary definition is, “If a guy tells me he knows I’m in love with him (but I think he’s a total loser), then I say to him “AS IF!”

I think the way you say it has as much affect as the words themselves. There’s a difference between “Yeah, right” and “Yeah, right!” (exaggerating the words) The same thing goes with “As if!” (exaggerating the words and emphasizing the second)

We’re going to use a slightly different meaning for “as if” today than either of those two. I thought of this phrase when I was reading verse 7 in Hebrews 13: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

It’s worth remembering the setting of the letter to the Hebrews. It was likely written around 63 or 64 AD, and the author is unknown. There is some tradition that the author was the apostle Paul, but that was doubted as early as the third century. Some people have suggested it was written by Priscilla, and that the author’s name was suppressed because it was a woman. Perhaps Origen, who doubted that it was Paul, gives the best answer to the question of authorship:”Men of old have handed it down as Paul’s, but who wrote the Epistle God only knows.”

Whoever wrote Hebrews, they wrote it to a Christian community of Jewish converts, probably in Jerusalem, facing persecution from the Jews. The leader of the Christians, James, had been put to death not too long before. The temple in Jerusalem was the scene of lavish services of great pomp and ceremony, while the Christian community generally lived in poverty. A few verses after our reading the writer says specifically that he is writing to exhort and encourage the community of believers.

And what is the writer encouraging them to do? Well, there are some things listed and then one sentence that sums them all up. The writer says that the Hebrews (and by extension that we) should show hospitality to strangers, remember those in prison and those being tortured, honor and respect marriage, not love money, continually praise God, do good, and share what you have. That all comes together in verse 7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

That’s a little bit scary, really. When it says to remember your leaders, remember those who spoke the word to you and consider the outcome of their way of life, if I had been there among the Hebrews the first person I thought of probably would have been James. He was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and he had been stoned to death. Taking just that on it’s own, I’m not sure how encouraging it is to consider the outcome of James’s way of life.

But look back just a few verses to verse 3: “Remember those who are in prison, as though (or as if) you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” The request to consider the example of people like James isn’t an accident. The writer wants us to think of people being tortured and imprisoned as if it was us. The writer wants us to imitate the faith of people like James, people who were killed for their faith.

Are you able to do that? Are we able to live our faith in such a way that we might be tortured or imprisoned or killed for it? I can’t speak for you, but I’m not so sure about myself sometimes.

Jesus gives us a parable with what is perhaps a slightly easier challenge. He starts out quoting Proverbs 25:6-7: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.” When you’re invited to a dinner, don’t take the best seat. If you take the best place and they want someone else to be there, then you’ll be embarrassed. Instead, take the worst spot. That way if they tell you to come on up to a better table, you’ll be honored.

That sounds a little bit conniving, doesn’t it. It sounds like Jesus is saying to take a servant’s place so that people will recognize your worth when you are called forward to a different place. That’s not quite it, though. Jesus is saying to take a servant’s place so that at the right time God will call you forward. God will exalt you. God will lift you up. All who truly follow Jesus will take a servant’s place, and all who truly follow Jesus will be lifted up by God at the end of time.

I like sitting at the worst table at the banquet better than I like being ready to face death for my faith. Really, though, in this context they are the same thing. We imitate that which we hope to be. In Hebrews, we imitate the faith of those who taught us so that we may achieve the same outcome as they did. Not just death, but death followed by resurrection. In Luke, we imitate Christ, who took the place of a servant and died on a cross. In so doing, in the end we will be raised and exalted with Christ.

I was a Speech Communication and Drama major in college. We studied different theories of acting. Especially in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the big thing in American acting was “The Method.” It was all about identifying emotional truth in a scene and looking for that truth within yourself as an actor and finding a way to bring the emotions buried deep inside you into the performance. (My theater prof would hate that description.) One contrast to The Method was the traditional British style of acting, which is more about the externals, about style and diction. There is a story, maybe true, about a point in the filming of Marathon Man where the great American actor Dustin Hoffman was going on and on to Laurence Olivier about motivation and preparation and such, and Olivier looked at him and said “dear boy, why don’t you just pretend?”

That little story presents what is kind of the “fake it ’til you make it” school of acting. If you are playing a king, then talk like a king. Walk like a king. Act like a king. After time, you will start to feel like a king. The same is true if you are playing a trash collector, or a teacher, or anything else. If you act like it long enough, you will start to feel it. Fake it ’til you make it.

That’s not too far off from what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Whether the writer was Paul or Priscilla or someone else, they know that we probably aren’t ready to face death. Sometimes I’m not even ready to face work. But we are to imitate the faith of our teachers and leaders. We are to imitate their faith, we are to live as if we have that kind of faith. We may not have it, but if we live as if we do have it, eventually we will. If we live as if we are content with the place of least honor, we eventually will be comfortable with that place. If we live as if we are ready to be servants, we will become servants. If we live as if we are ready to face death, we will be ready when death comes.

What is your “fake it ’til you make it” goal in your life? What is it that you are not ready to do that God may be calling you to? What is it that you don’t think you are up to that is demanded by your faith? Whatever it is, I encourage you to imitate those who have lived out of their faith. I encourage you to fake it ’til you make it. I encourage you to live as if. Amen.

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