As you know, for the month of September, our message series is focusing on: Who is Jesus? Today we look at Jesus the Teacher.
I bet that everyone here remembers their favorite teacher … whether it was kindergarten, because s/he was so kind to us, or grammar school, because were the teacher’s pet, or high school because we seemed to catch on to the lessons given a dynamic teaching style or college/graduate school professor because we really felt connected and finally at the threshold of being a professional.
My favorite teacher was from Seton Hall law school … Kathleen Boozang … who is now the dean there. She was my favorite because she kicked my butt and really challenged me in doing research and disciplined writing. I can still hear her say, You have to think and write like a lawyer! She taught me not to be lazy … to read the next article, to write, review and then re-write. She was and is my favorite because she challenged me, and even today, continues to challenge me to be the best version of myself … and sometimes that’s just not easy.
Isn’t that the same with Jesus?
“Who do you say that I am?” is a much harder question than we think it is. We already know that the New Testament does not paint a uniform portrait of Jesus Christ.
Not only do we have four very different Gospels o each remarkably unique in their individual understandings of the meaning of Jesus’ ministry. But here’s an amazing fact … of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times he was called Teacher.
There are twenty-three additional books that articulate varying views and teachings of Jesus.
Even the thirteen letters attributed to Paul adapt the function and significance of Jesus Christ depending on the circumstances that need to be addressed in our lives.
And surely, discrepancies exist. Although he never entered a classroom as we know a classroom and he never had a degree as we understand an educational degree, yet all the world was his classroom. Today, as we think about Jesus as Teacher, we can and should spend some time thinking about how we would respond to Jesus’ inquiry, considering what our answer might be. But there’s even more that Jesus is asking in this seemingly straightforward question, and perhaps it’s this “more” that is the most challenging, the most demanding, the “more” we wish we could avoid. Because “Who do you say that I am?” is at the same time, “who will you say that you are?” That’s the rub of this question, the heart of its difficulty. If it we only had to provide an answer to Jesus’ question of his identity, that would be one thing. However, answering the question of Jesus’ identity is also having to give voice to our own. When we think about Jesus as Teacher, we can’t answer Jesus’ inquiry without revealing who we are … because it’s not about getting the answer right. It’s the moment when we come face-to-face with our own commitment, our own discipleship, our own identity. It’s the moment when we have to admit to what it is that we have learned from Jesus, and how we are putting that knowledge to work in our lives and in our world. In John’s Gospel, we read: For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. How do we emulate his example? … of listening … of responding to those in need … of healing … of telling the truth, even when its hard … of healing … of doing good works … of taking up our cross How do we, his students, his disciples, follow him … today, here and now, and forever? “Who do you say that I am?” is also a question we should ask of others, of ourselves. Who, indeed, will people say we are? Are we willing to ask the question? Or do we stay silent, afraid of what people might say, perhaps worried about what truth might get uttered? Avoiding the question altogether so as to feign a kind of confidence we don’t really have? Jesus knows it’s one of the hardest questions to ask — which is why he asks it in the first place, and why he has to ask it first. Perhaps this week, in your family, in your home, with your work colleagues, with your friends, we can ask the question, Who do you say that I am? Not only of Jesus, but of ourselves. Undoubtedly the answers will be interesting, perhaps even challenging, but they may also be life-giving! Jesus challenges us to be the best version of ourselves, are we up for the challenge?