Jesus as Teacher
Reflections and Actions for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Wisdom 2:12, 17 – 20; James 3:16 to 4:3; Mark 9:30 – 37
As disciples of Jesus, we should notice some things about his way of teaching. It will help us learn from him better.
First, he teaches things that cannot be grasped on first bounce. The Gospel tells us that even the twelve who were his picked students did not understand him when he talked about his way of saving the world by dying on the cross – by enduring evil with love. The teachings of Jesus – what we, as his disciples are trying to learn – are too deep, too different from what is taken for granted in this world, too divine for us to just listen to them once and say, "I've got it!" Like Mary, we will only understand if we "keep all these things in our heart," reflecting on them, pondering them, letting them grow to clarity within us (see Luke 2:19, 51).
The Gospel shows us another reason, probably the main reason, why his disciples failed to understand Jesus – and still do. "They were afraid" to question him more deeply.
There are some things we do not ask about or think about deeply because we are afraid of what the answer might be.
We do not want to saw off a limb we're sitting on! If we depend on something, or think we do, for our survival, to keep our jobs or our friends, we do not want to cut that out of our lives. At the time of the Civil War the Christians who could not understand that slavery was wrong were the ones who lived in states which depended on slave labor. The Northerners were not smarter than the Southerners, or better Christians; they just did not depend on slavery, and so they could see it was wrong. Industrialists who pollute the atmosphere are not dumber than environmentalists, or greater sinners. They just have a lot to lose by keeping the air clean, and so they do not see how important it is. The same is true of people who depend on those industries for their jobs. And we can be sure there is a lot Jesus teaches which we do not understand, just because what he seems to say does not appear to be in our interest. That is the reason we do not ask ourselves what he really means, or reflect on his teaching deeply.
There are plenty of ways to express our love for God and for others without getting into ways which might call for changes in our lives. There is plenty to study in the teaching of Jesus without taking up the hard questions. We can prune little branches off our lives forever without cutting off any limb we are sitting on! We can give so much time to devotional practices which express the faith we already have that we do not have any left over for deep, challenging discipleship. The best way not to understand what Jesus teaches is just not to ask him any questions – at least, not when we do not want to hear the answers.
What does Jesus do when we do not accept his teaching?
When his disciples, for example, were arguing about who was more important, how did Jesus respond? He did not just tell them they were wrong. He held up a higher ideal, an exciting new idea. "Anyone who wants to be first needs to be last, and to be at the service of all." Jesus did not tell the people of his time, "It is wrong for you to have slaves." He taught them that if they were reborn by grace, and accepted God as their Father, then they were brothers and sisters of one another. When our behavior falls short, Jesus gives us a thought to ponder, a deep new principle to incorporate into our lives.
And finally, he gives us something human, like a role model, or an inspiring example – a visible image we can keep before our eyes. To teach his disciples to be last and at the service of all, he put his arms around a little child and said, "If, as my disciples, you accept a little child like this, you are accepting me – and the One who sent me." That is a picture to keep in our minds. And as the proverb says, one picture is worth a thousand words.
Reflecting on This Week's Gospels
Pray daily: Lord, I believe you are the Teacher of life. I want to know all you teach. I want to accept it and live it. Give me enough trust in you to face the hard sayings in your Gospel and apply them to my life. And give me grace to live them.
Monday: Luke 8:16 – 18. "For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light." Which will appear worse: others' sins against you or your refusal to forgive?
Tuesday: Luke 8:19 – 21. "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." How does your forgiving others make Jesus see you as intimately united with himself? Is this identification with him sufficient payment for all the evil you have suffered?
Wednesday: Luke 9:1 – 6. "Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them." Why would anyone not welcome the bearers of Jesus' good news? When have you last rejected some ideal you read or heard preached? Why did you reject it?
Thursday: Luke 9:7 – 9. Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was greatly perplexed. How often do you feel perplexed at something Jesus said or did? Should this be a frequent experience if you are taking him seriously? How often do you look at what he said and did?
Friday: Luke 9:18 – 22. "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Why?
Saturday: Luke 9:43 – 45. "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands." But [the disciples] did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them. Do you understand why Jesus, who is God, would let himself be betrayed and handed over to arrogant enemies, to be treated any way they desired, and not retaliate? What is the meaning in this?
Living This Week's Gospels
As Christian: Reflect on the words of John Paul II: "Jesus' way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life" (The Splendor of Truth, #20). Can you accept this for yourself, as your standard of morality?
As Disciple: List from memory as many hard sayings of Jesus as you can think of. Observe the feelings you have in reaction to each one.
As Prophet: Take one of the hard sayings you thought of and think about it until you see a practical way to apply it to your own life. Do it.
As Priest: Think of some of the hard things you have to say to others (friends, employees, children, students). How can you say them with the gentleness of Jesus? By making them inspiring? By example?
As King: Ask if there is any situation at home, at work, among your friends, which you have avoided addressing because you are afraid of the consequences. Think seriously about what you should do.