Great teachers like Jesus use what they know to show you a bigger, bolder, more expansive world. They help you find your place in it, and they build you up in love. (Listen.)
Over the years, I’ve had some great teachers. There was Jim, who began a calculus lesson by leaping around the room at ever-decreasing intervals until he got down to teeny-tiny little mincing steps. There was Ellen, who ignited in me a love for poetry. There was Keith, who turned the Bible upside down with gentleness and grace. Then there are all my other teachers: family and friends and people in churches: because everywhere I go, I find teachers.
I’m talking about teachers and teaching, but it should be obvious that I don’t just mean literacy and numeracy and all the good stuff on the school curriculum. So what makes a teacher great in my book? And what does a great teacher teach? To answer, let’s turn to a story about the greatest teacher of them all, Jesus.
In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, we are told that Jesus is in the habit of going to the faith centre every Sabbath, that he is invited to teach there, and that his teaching amazes people because it has authority. But we don’t get a lesson plan or rubric. We aren’t told what he taught: so straightaway we learn that his teaching is about much more than content.
While he is there, someone who is possessed, that is, someone who is controlled by bad spirit, comes in. We don’t know what they’re possessed by. Maybe they’re so overwhelmed by everything that’s happening in the world that they can barely breathe. Maybe they’re so anxious about looking good on social media that they’ve forgotten how to enjoy their own company. Maybe they’re so driven by winning, or shopping, or being helpful, special or right, that they can’t really connect with other people anymore. But whatever it is that possesses them, it fills them with darkness and fear, rage and pain.
This person approaches Jesus and challenges him, but Jesus simply orders the bad spirit to be quiet and come out, and the person is set free. Or, if you like, they are healed and made whole, or restored to their right mind, that is, a mind attuned to God and other people. And again we are told that everyone is amazed because his teaching has authority.
What this tells me is that Jesus’ teaching has authority because of its effect. It’s not that he knows all the right answers and can argue everyone into the ground. Instead, it’s that his teaching frees, heals and empowers people. It silences the terrible voices snarling within. It restores people to themselves, and to right relationship with God and community. These learning outcomes are what give his teaching its authority.
I think back on my own life and of the special people who have had this effect on me. On the surface, maybe they taught me math or poetry or the Bible; maybe they taught me how to share a house, or raise a child, or be a friend. But one way or another, they also told me that I am cherished; that I belong; that I am enough; and that, when I stuff up, I am forgiven. They silenced the snarling voices within me that told me I wasn’t good enough, that I’d never know enough, or be enough, or do enough; they helped me to be quiet and settled in myself.
When I am with people like this, I feel grounded and loved. I feel confident, healed, empowered; I feel in right relationship with God and community; and I know my place in the world.
And even when they’re not aiming for any outcome, even when they don’t even know that they’re teaching me, people who make me feel this way are my truest teachers. For they are a bit like the Good Teacher, Jesus, and they make me a little bit more like the Good Teacher, too.
Now, I’ve found people like this at school, but I’ve also found them at church, at home and in my neighbourhood. They can be of any age (and babies are some of the best teachers); and they come in all shapes and sizes and from every walk of life.
So this year, at kinder and school, and at every other place where you learn, that is, everywhere you go, keep an eye out for teachers like this: teachers who are a bit like Jesus. Look for people who use what they know to show you a bigger, bolder, more expansive world, who help you find your right place in it, and who, in all things, build you up in love.
And may you grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people; and may you become ever more like Jesus yourself, freeing, healing and empowering others not only through your words, but through your life and through your love. Amen. Ω
After the reflection, we interviewed our school students and then, since all of us are lifelong learners, we all had our faculties blessed for a new year of learning and growing.
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