Some teachers draw inspiration from the fact that Jesus was a teacher. He was a carpenter, a healer, and a miracle worker. But on his mission to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, he was an eminent teacher.
That is what emerges clearly as a central message of today’s Good News: Jesus was a teacher. “He went around all of Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Mt. 4:23).
Of course he wasn’t a teacher in the professional sense that we use the word “teacher” in the Philippines today. He didn’t have to worry about PRC’s required licensure exam for basic education teaching, nor did he have to qualify himself for tertiary-level teaching with an MA, an MS or a PhD. He didn’t have to contend with facing overcrowded classrooms six times a day, nor with underequipped laboratories. He didn’t have to re-work his lesson plans into “Understanding by Design”, nor contend with requirements in research and outreach beyond his overcrowded teaching load.
He was a teacher because he had a message to communicate, because he communicated it, and because he paid a hefty price to communicate it. Teachers are blessed if something of his Spirit rubs off on their teaching, even if it too entails a hefty price.
There are many lessons that Jesus taught. The Sermon on the Mount is a collection of these teachings (Mt. 5.-7; Lk 6:20 ff.). These include lessons on happiness, the privileged place of the poor, the mission of the believer, even-temperedness, the importance of the human-human relationship for the human-God relationship, the challenge to love one’s enemies, the importance of giving alms, the best attitude for prayer, and the importance of putting truth to practice. From the crowds that gathered from far and wide (cf. Mt. 4:25), we know that he taught them well. He connected. With spoke with authority (cf. Mt. 7:29). Eventually, his teaching on the Kingdom of God was so effective, it threatened the established powers: the scribes, the Pharisees, the Jewish leadership, the Roman occupation powers. In resistance to his teaching, they put him to death.
There are some times in teaching that teachers have to contend with opposition: parents who want their kids to earn degrees to get ahead, but who are threatened by their learning, civil authorities who do not want youth to think, education officials who do not want the boat rocked. From Jesus, there may be some consolation.
But there is another aspect of Jesus as teacher that I would like to propose that is part of the tradition of Ignatian teaching. This aspect is based on the Meditation on the Incarnation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and involves more of a world view rather than a corpus of teachings.
In this Meditation on the Incarnation, the exercitant is invited to “see all the different people on the face of the earth, so varied in dress and in behavior. Some are white and others black; some at peace and others at war; some weeping and others laughing; some well and others sick; some being born and others dying, etc.” and then to focus on the response of the Trinitarian God to this world, with all its ambivalent colors and hues, its chiaroscuro of light and shadows, ultimately deciding not to say No to it, but Yes. The divine resolution: “Let us work out the salvation of humankind.” In this resolve, the Father’s Word of Love takes on human flesh. Jesus is the Incarnate Word, whose content is the Father’s Love for us in our world. Jesus is the Teacher whose message is the Father’s Love, giving an enduring validity in truth to ourselves and the world in which we live, with its sinners and saints. Central to the message of Jesus the Teacher, then, is the irreversible dignity of the human being and the enduring validity of all Creation as home for humankind.
If this is the reason why some teachers draw inspiration from Jesus as Teacher, it is probably because it belongs to the central message of Christianity and can therefore form a powerful part of “what makes a teacher tick” – his or her spirituality. Because Jesus as Teacher ultimately expresses the Father’s Yes in Love to humankind and the world, the bottom lines on humanity and on the world are positive, and one can teach in celebration of a blessed humanity and a blessed world, not one rejected and condemned. The fundamental attitude of the teacher to the world is positive and optimistic. It is worthwhile teaching to celebrate the achievements of humanity; to appreciate and to preserve the achievements of human civilization and culture; it is worthwhile to teach to encourage the advancement of human civilization and culture, with all its costs in discipline and formation, versus an unattended deterioration of culture. It is worthwhile to seriously search for new insights in truth and for new inspirations for action, and allow these to benefit our needy communities. It is worthwhile to teach students to value Creation and to delve into its many secrets and treasures, often disclosing the awesomeness of the Creator; just as in this Spirit, it is urgent today to teach students to respect Creation, to preserve its integrity, and to protect its forests and mountains, its lakes and seas, from the greed of thoughtless exploitation.
Jesus is a teacher – the Way, the Truth and the Light (Jn 14:6). He teaches us how we are loved by his Father, and we return to him by loving one another and our world. He is an inspiration to many teachers. May he also inspire you!