Jesus speaks today about what it means to be a good teacher.
I was thinking about some of my past teachers. I have had a lot of them between grade school, college, technical school and university. Through those years I have had some really good teachers.
Those that really made an impact on me and that I remember with fondness were those that spent time with the kids outside of class whether it was traveling to debate tournaments or building model rockets that were destined to be sent skyward from the school yard. These activities were not part of our formal studies but they did lead to a lot of life lessons.
As for those who taught only from books and overhead projectors and left for the staff room as soon as the bell rang, let’s just say that I don’t remember the names of too many of them.
Of course maybe who taught me might not seem as important as what I learned but still a lot of what we need to really know is not learned in the class times but in those in between times. This is where Jesus seemed to excel. He was a good teacher; people sat up and took notice when he had something to say. More importantly though was that he spent time with people and got to know them through their own stories because this is where the real learning gets done.
So what was it that he wanted the people to learn?
The law? Of course the law was important. Jesus was clear that he had not come to abolish the laws of the covenant and for this reason he said the Pharisees did a wonderful job of maintaining the tradition, of handing down the knowledge. The law was important. But there was something getting lost in the translation. The law was not just about knowledge, it was also about heart and spirit and compassion. It was here that Jesus felt the Pharisees were missing out. “Do what they teach you but don’t do what they do.” At the heart of the law is not knowledge and ritual, it is about a relationship between us and our God. It was this relationship that was getting overlooked.
In the reading from Isaiah we find the great prophet trying to teach the same thing to the people of Jerusalem. They had strayed from the path but Isaiah’s approach is not to tell them to be more attentive to ritual and ceremony but to pay attention to those who are the most vulnerable ones; the widows and the orphans of the society. Isaiah knew that at the heart of the covenant is relationship and if that goes then no amount of pomp and ceremony will suffice to replace it.
Jesus calls the scribe and the Pharisees “Hypocrites” or “the people who wear masks”. They were happy to be on display in their finery and at their dinners but they didn’t realize that people were laughing behind their backs. They were not connecting with people where they really lived. Jesus wanted to renew the heart of the covenant in people by getting them to drop their barriers to drop their pretenses and defenses that religious roles can often instill.
The invitation for us it would seem is to take off our own masks, whether its preachers or parishioners. To be able to drop our pretenses and the defenses and the roles we carry and to focus on building those relationships that Jesus saw as so important. That might be easier said then done but hopefully it can start in our own pews and homes as we think about opening up to our neighbors and friends about our faith in God and about our desire to make this journey of faith together. Who knows what might come of it?
Think of a teacher who inspired you, what did they do that made them stand out?
Are you able to be that kind of person for someone you know?