Weekly Reflections: Teaching with authority


When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowd was amazed at the way he taught. He wasn’t like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority. — Matthew 7:28-29

International Teachers’ Day

International Teachers’ Day is celebrated annually on October 5 since 1994, commemorating the signing of the “Teaching in Freedom” document in 1966. The main purpose this celebration is to appreciate, assess and improve the educators of the world and to provide an opportunity to consider issues related to teachers and teaching.

For our reflections, let me invite you to look into the life and teachings of the Greatest Teacher of all who lived in Palestine more than two thousand years ago. He had no letters after his name. He had no PhD or EdD or MAED or what have you. As a matter of fact, he was just a son of a carpenter in the town of Nazareth. Yet, the masses of people whose lives he had touched were really amazed at the way he taught. He was not like the rabbis, they say; he was not like the teachers of the law. For he taught the people with authority (Mt.7:28-29).

His name is Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, the very foundation of our teaching ministry.

Now, we may ask, what really made Jesus’ teaching gained such popularity and respect among the people? Why were the people amazed at the way he taught? By trying to answer this question, we may be able to learn some valuable insights for our own teaching ministry.

God’s presence

First of all, Jesus’ teaching was a product, first and foremost, of his consciousness of God’s presence in all that he experienced in nature and in history.

Jesus was a person who was joyously burdened with the responsibility of communicating the message of God’s presence and of God’s Kingdom. Therefore, everything that happened, everything that he experienced became for him instruments for teaching God’s presence and God’s Kingdom with conviction and enthusiasm. For instance, the sight of the lilies blooming in the fields or the sight of the sparrows flying in the sky became for him vehicles for conveying the message of the nature of God’s caring love.

In our own teaching ministry, we ought to be alive to God’s presence and be responsive to the gift of life, to the wonder, the vitality, the variety, and even the mystery of existence that occurs time and again with freshness every day.

Jesus’ sensitivity to the world around him naturally led him to a deep concern for individual persons. The best example of this was his meeting with the woman who had a hemorrhage (Mk.5:25-34). Let us recall that incident. A great crowd followed Jesus. But in the midst of this crowd was a woman who had been suffering terribly from severe bleeding for twelve years already. She had been treated by many doctors, but without success. And so, this woman came to Jesus with faith that she could get well if only she could touch even just the clothes of Jesus.

Jesus was able to single out this need in a crowd. He felt the peculiar touch of a particular person with a special need, and he responded to that need with compassion.

Our sensitivity toward individual persons in our learning community may be the most important aspect of our teaching responsibility. This means that as teachers, we must respond to our learners as living persons, each with his or her own life, each with his or her own sufferings and hopes.

Analogical method

Moreover, Jesus’ teaching was also a result of his method that we may regard as analogical. That is, he tried to stimulate people’s imaginations to new insights by leading them to draw a comparison between a self-evident truth and a truth of another order of reality.

The parable is ideally suited for this kind of method. That’s why Jesus used parables so freely in his teachings. A parable is a simple story of an incident that may or may not have actually happened. But the important point about a parable is that it draws a familiar, life-like picture, and makes it serve as a window through which a truth of another order can be seen.

Of course, we know that there are very few people who can really grasp abstract ideas. Most people think in pictures. For instance, we may talk about beauty all day long, yet we may not be able to understand what beauty means. But if we would point at a person and say, “That person is beautiful!” then beauty becomes clear to us. Or, we may talk about goodness for hours and hours, yet we may fail to arrive at a definition of it. But if we would see or experienced an act of goodness, then we would know what it means.

There is a sense in which every word must become flesh and blood. Every idea must be actualized in a person. When the New Testament talks about faith, it takes the example of Abraham so that the idea of faith becomes flesh and blood in the person of Abraham.

Indeed, Jesus was a wise teacher. He knew that it was useless to expect simple minds to cope up with abstract ideas. And so, he put the abstract ideas into concrete stories; he showed them in action. He made them into persons, so that people might be able to grasp and understand them.

Exemplary life

Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching consisted of exemplifying in his own life what he taught in words. For instance, on one occasion he girded himself with a towel (Jn.13:4-5). Then, he poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel. Thus, Jesus enacted what it means to be a servant that he wanted to teach. This incident and other similar incidents were “enacted parables”, conveying a message far more eloquently than the words could do alone.

To be able to teach through our actions is also our responsibility as teachers. For instance, what better ways of teaching one’s care for one another than to offer our caring love to another person? This, I believe, would add so much to the unity of the whole community of faith. In preaching, what matters is not so much the style of preaching, but the lifestyle of the preacher. I believe this principle applies not only to preaching, but to teaching as well.

Disciplined life

Finally, we can be sure that behind Jesus’ teaching was a marvelously disciplined life – disciplined mind and heart and will. To help improve the quality of education in our country today, we really need a disciplined life for our teachers.

In his collection of prayers, William Barclay has a teacher’s prayer that I would recommend to each one of us. It goes like this: “Lord, make me diligent in my preparation to teach, determined never to offer to you or to my students that which cost me nothing at all.”

Teaching with authority like Christ would be an impossible task, indeed, unless we begin our teaching with deep trust in God. That behind the mystery of life is our God Almighty who shapes and re-shapes our lives and our teaching. And thus, in the silence and solitude of our being, we do pray with Thomas A Kempis, saying: “Grant me, O Lord, to know that which is worth knowing, and to love that which is worth loving.” # nordis.net


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