[Homily: Culmination, National Teachers’ Month, Oct. 4, 2016]
On this culminating day of National Teachers’ Month, we come together in thanksgiving for our teachers nationwide, the teachers in our personal lives, the teachers in our Catholic schools, and especially for the teachers here at Ateneo de Davao University. It is good to recall our teachers, remember their names, and the manner in which they touched and shaped our lives. At this Mass we lift our teachers up to the Lord and call God’s special blessings on them.
At this Eucharist, however, we recall with special gratitude Jesus, the Teacher.
Jesus, the Word, the loving, redeeming Word of the Father, whose Spirit gathers us together in one communion today, was a teacher. “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6) he said. In truth, he taught us of the Kingdom of God. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”(Mt. 3:2), he said. The Kingdom of God requires our conversion to it, he taught. It requires our self-transformation and the transformation of our society. In truth, he taught us about life. “I have come to bring life, life in abundance, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). He taught, only in the Kingdom of God do we have life to the full.
Sometimes, Jesus the Teacher taught directly. Often, he used parables. Profoundly, he taught with the witness of his life.
He taught directly. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5:1) he taught, “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven” (Lk 6). He taught, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). He taught us to pray: “Our Father, hallowed be thy name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done…” (Lk 6:9 ff). He taught us to forgive: “If you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt. 6:14). He taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Mt.5:44) He taught us not to worry: “Look at the birds of the air,” he taught. “They do not sow or reap or gather into barns. And yet your Father feeds them. Are you not of much more worth than they? … Why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. … Seek first the Father’s Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”(Lk 6:25-34). But he also taught that his Father’s Kingdom is not merely a heavenly Kingdom, but accessible only to those who take care of the least and excluded in society. “Whatever you have done or not done to one of these the least of my sisters and brothers, that you have done or not done to me”(cf. Mt. 25:31-46).
He taught in parables. To teach us the folly of sin and the incredible compassion of the Father, he used the Parable of the Prodigal Son. To teach us the meaning of our neighbor, taking a swipe at uncaring priests and a non-compassionate Jewish culture, he used the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). To teach us of our responsibility to the poor right outside our door, he used the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). To teach us a profound lesson about how we must cope with evil in our world, he used the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat (Mt. 13:24-29).
He taught with the witness of his life. He taught of the compassion of his Father in his healing. Hundreds went to him for healing. He cured them of their leprosies, their withered hands, their paralysis. He raised them from the dead. He taught of the compassion of the Father in forgiving sins. Remember how he forgave the sin of the paralytic whom he cured (Mt. 9:1-8)? Or the sin of the adulteress whom they were about to stone to death (Jn 8:1-11)? Or the sins of the woman who washed his feet with her tears (Lk 7:36-50)? In curing and forgiving he taught of the importance of faith, the importance of the inner personal relationship to the Father through him, lauding it when it was strong, decrying it when it was weak. “Your faith has saved you” (Lk 7:50), he told the sinful women who had anointed his feet. “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith” (Mt. 8:26), he chided his disciples terrified by the storm. “If you know me, you know the Father” (Jn. 8:19), he taught his disciples asking how to know the Father.
His teaching of the Kingdom of God and of the importance of encountering this God of love and compassion through faith, against the teachings of those who reduced this vibrant relationship to God and neighbor to legal conformity, empty religious rituals, to life in the marketplace without God, and indifference to one’s neighbor brought him to conflict with the keepers of the religious and secular status quo, the scribes, the Pharisees, and the temple merchants. But he confronted them with passion, confronting his enemies directly, teaching them – and us – through his angry actions and words. In overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple (Mk 11:15-19), he taught of the sacredness of the temple and of the vital importance of worship of his Father. In calling woe on the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23-1-34), he is teaching us not to shut off heaven from people, not to make the people we influence children of hell, not to be petty in our religious practices but to observe the weightier requirements of justice and mercy, not to be whitened sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, not to be serpents bound for hell.
As you know, it was because of the power of his teaching, that the dark powers of the world crucified him (Jn 19:17-19). But precisely in confrontation with these powers, he taught compassion and forgiveness, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). “This day you will be with me in paradise” (Lk 23:43).
Perhaps, of all the images of Christ the Teacher, the most profound is Jesus on the Cross. This is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, where the Lord’s self-emptying is the fullness of life. This is the teaching Word of the Father’s Love, penetrating our hearts from the silence of his pierced heart. From him, we learn. In him, we teach.