January 11, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Now go and learn what this means: I desire compassion rather than sacrifice. I came to call the sinners [into God’s presence] and not the righteous.” (Matthew 9.13)
I am remembering the story of the Rich Young Ruler who approached Jesus and addressed Him as “Good Teacher.” Jesus responds to the address before answering the question which was posed [What must I do to inherit eternal life?]. In response to the inquiring mind [Why call Me good when there is none good but God.], we might consider that Jesus is rebuffing or rebuking the young man. But, is Jesus truly deferring the address to counter any false intention which might be the motivation of the man? Or, let us consider, that Jesus is leading the young man to make the greatest statement in his life. There in that moment, the young man could make his confession of faith and profess that Jesus is the Christ of God. Doing so would elevate Jesus, at least in his mind, from the position of rabbi to Son of God. If there is “none good but God” and the young man persists in calling Jesus “good,” [as good is imbued with the meaning of “doing what God has created something or someone to be”] then Jesus is of God and indeed would be the incarnation of God and God’s Word. In this regard, Jesus truly was a “good” and good teacher.
The nature and character of being a “good” teacher is evidenced in how he or she leads a student in discovering for themselves the knowledge, information and wisdom that is needed to solve a problem and answer a question. Too often, teachers simply provide the answers in the belief that learning by rote will be sufficient as long as the student remembers the answers when the questions are posed. And that is all well and good if the questions presented were suitable to the answers learned. But, as we all know, life is not a “stock” event. There is an integral randomness created in life which demands preparedness for the unexpected. I mentioned this “random” element in God’s creation and purpose to a friend who refused to believe that anything God did would be seen as random. The question was posed to me: Isn’t God in control of everything? I understood the lifelong learning behind that confession. I have argued the point with myself often. Yet, I have found that whatever else we may know about God, the truth of the presence of “free will” is without dispute. In order to truly love and be loved, God created, allowed and gave freewill into all of creation. Only God can know the myriad paths and options His creatures will choose to engage and follow. What allows God to be “in control” is His ability to be prepared “for anything and everything.” He has no stock answers for life except the very foundational commands which He has given. Those commands are “love God first; love the neighbor whom you are called to serve; love your enemies with the hope of redemption; love one another in mutual support and encouragement and trust in the Lord with all your heart so as not to lean on your own understanding.” Jesus clarified that in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Whatever our “cause,” the effect of “trusting and seeking God first in all things” is that what is needed in our lives is provided. It is the holding to these foundational principles that allows every one of us to be prepared for whatever comes our way. We certainly do not possess the full knowledge of God and thus can see what is around every corner. That means we are not in control of all our circumstances. It does mean that we can be prepared to remain under control in all of those circumstances and trust in God’s provision in us, for us and through us to meet the need and answer the question. This is what a “good” teacher does. A “good” teacher invokes learning from within with a love for learning and a love for teaching.
I believe this is exactly what Jesus did for the Rich Young Ruler. Sadly, the right answer which the young man discovered was more than he was willing to accept [at least in that moment]. I still have hope that he was able to “answer” that question correctly as he “went and learned” what it meant to “sell all that you have, take up your cross and follow Me.” Here in Matthew’s remembrance of that “banquet table set in the presence of my enemies” when Jesus overheard the Pharisees and teachers of the Law party crash and inquire of His disciples and taught them, we can see the same paradigm happen. They approached Jesus as much as possible but couldn’t get directly to Him. They found themselves in a similar situation as that experienced by Mary and her children when they came to persuade Jesus to come away with them for His safety. The house was so full, they couldn’t get close. Their only solution to the problem was to “pass the word on.” So, these “inquiring minds” asked His disciples with the intention of getting the word to Jesus. He heard the word and responded with “I have come to call the sinner into life and not the righteous.” But, that wasn’t the real lesson in the question and answer session. The real lesson was the one invoked by the good Teacher. Once giving them the lesson starter, He urged them to “go and learn” what it means to desire compassion over sacrifice, salvation over self-righteousness. Jesus wasn’t framing the understanding of “learning” as what was presented by those who were “teachers of the Law.” The style of learning they promoted was to memorize the Word of God until it was second nature to their thinking and decision-making. Not only did it require memorization but then modelling the information “learned.” We can see such intentionality in their understanding of the Ten Commandments. For them, as it was for the Rich Young Ruler, righteousness was “affirming what they believed was right.” They saw the Ten Commandments as that list of “don’ts” which when obeyed inferred righteousness. When Jesus gave the six commandments of how to relate to one another, the young man responded quickly “all these I have done since I was a child.” But, six commandments did not make ten commandments. And further, they did not make an equivalency to the greatest commandments of all. So, once the “knowledge” was given, the learning then truly began.
Imagine if we focused on following the Ten Commandments by seeking the life that was allowed by them instead of avoiding the life prohibited by them? What happens if we read each one of them as an opportunity to live instead of the fear of dying in disobedience. Instead of striving to not tell a lie, commit to always speaking the truth. Instead of lusting after what your neighbor has be satisfied with what you have and endeavor to be in a place in life where what you want is what God intends for you to have. Instead of pursuing your “independence” from your parents and entertain dishonoring them and their memory (or the lessons that they teach) trust them knowing that one day you will be in their position with your own children. Loving and living life to God’s fullest measure is by far more advantageous than pursuing life by your passion for projection and self-indulgence. And there in Matthew’s house, Jesus invited “the enemy” to become friends, colleagues and allies by putting into practice what made for righteousness in the Kingdom of God on earth: to bring sinners, including themselves if they would be honest before God, into the presence of God’s mercy and grace with love and forgiveness instead of pursuing the expectation that if they had any hope of the “good” life everyone had to be just like “them.” For almost all of us, learning by doing is the most productive, satisfying and projecting style of learning. Jesus wasn’t sending them away to ask someone else the question. Jesus was sending them out to show others the answer.
Isn’t that the same lesson He offers to us? We know the way, the truth and the life. Are we living out what we know and inviting others to live it out together with us?
Father, You must believe that learning is best accomplished by doing because You are a “doing” God. You contemplate. You initiate. You create. You recreate. You love. You became flesh to dwell among us so we could see the Word in action. We pray we will be the kind of students You believe we can be and are. Bless the lessons we learn from Your Word today and those that we will teach in Jesus’ name. AMEN.