Teachers play a valuable part in our education. Most adults can think back on their school days or college experience and identify special teachers or professors who had an impact on their lives. Some perhaps stand out for a particular subject or a specific lesson learned, others by the general care and concern they showed us in helping form us as human beings. For them we are grateful.
One aspect of our relationship with Jesus is that of disciple to master. A disciple can be described as a student. The teacher in this case is the rabbi. Jesus speaks of this relationship in the center of the Gospel passage for this Sunday’s liturgy. He says: “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” Jesus is our teacher. The subject is life.
Unlike teachers who remain the masters, Jesus invites us into a relationship that one day will become one of friendship and family. Regarding friendship, Jesus says: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything that I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another” (John 15:15-17).
As family, St. Matthew recalls it this way: “Someone told him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.’ But he said in reply to the one who told him, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
The movement in this relationship is to become like him who teaches. We learn from him who is the Way. The lesson he teaches today is very much tied to the rest of the Gospel; it is a piece of the whole. Love and mercy lie at the heart of the Gospel. Love of God, neighbor and self. Mercy is that gracious act which heals love that is broken, damaged or inadequate. Mercy is both received and offered.
Jesus speaks regularly on the activity of love in very specific terms throughout the Gospel. Today’s lesson is on interiorizing love and mercy. It begins with an admonition, a warning. This warning is at the same time against judging others and failing to evaluate ourselves. The blind person cannot lead a blind person because they cannot see.
We are the students who continually learn from the Master. Failure to recognize that we are not alone but join with many other disciples on this journey could lead us to think that we are the Master. The consequence of this attitude is that judgment replaces love and mercy. It also happens when we fail to recognize our own weaknesses, sinfulness or imperfections and instead focus our attention outside ourself.
Hence Jesus will say: “You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; they you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”
Jesus teaches us that his message of love and mercy needs to be woven into our lives. It has to be part of the fabric of our lives. If we learn this lesson well, incorporating it into our lives, then we will be the good tree that bears good fruit. As Jesus says: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Jesus teaches us not only by his words but by his person. He is the teacher of life, par excellence, who lives what he teaches. He once again invites us to be his students, his disciples, his friend and part of the Father’s family.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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