June/July 2013 - Vol. 68
The title of Teacher, Rabbi, is often given to Jesus in Scripture. I think it is very important for all young people to know what kind of a teacher Jesus of Nazareth was and still is.
When I was at university, I had two professors who were completely different, and their way of behaving influenced my studies and my relationship withot them. One of them I'll call Mr. Hunter, and he flunked me in geography, the only course I failed in my whole university career.
Mr. Hunter was not concerned for his pupils. His classes were dull, but he would be very upset if you were distracted. He talked through his teeth and with a Southern accent, but he didn’t seem to be worried by the fact that foreign students, like me, did not understand him. But the thing that made him famous was his exams. They were designed to find out what you did not know. Thus, they were designed to make you fail. His students feared him, but did not respect or love him or seek his company.
The other teacher I'll call Mr. Quigley, Professor of European History and of Political Science. He was a great man. He would prepare his lectures very well, and the whole class was attentive to his words. If any one of us had a difficulty, Mr. Quigley would stay after class and try to help us. He would often invite his students over to his home to meet his family and have some refreshments. But above all, his exams were designed to find out how much you knew. They did not include tricky questions, and asked about things that were important or that would be really useful for our lives in the future. We all knew that Mr. Quigley was very much interested in having us learn, and therefore in enabling all of us to pass. He was not an easy teacher, but he was a good teacher, a just and committed teacher.
Many people, when they think about Christ, the Teacher, will probably think about Mr. Hunter. They imagine a God who tolerates man but who does not rejoice in him or in his company, a God who would like to condemn all of us in the final examination, and for that purpose carries a minute account of all the wrong things we have done or the mistakes we have made in our lives. Those who imagine him that way live a life full of fear, of course. They fear him but they do not love him, or follow him, or have a concern for being his friends.
Bot the portrait that Scripture presents to us of Jesus, the Teacher, is rather like Mr. Quigley, except he is infinitely more wonderful and encouraging.
Mr. Quigley was concerned for those who needed help to learn. Christ says that those who are well do not need a doctor, but those who are sick, and that he came to save that which had been lost, that is, those who had failed their courses. He does not rejoice in catching anybody unawares. To the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery he says, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again” (John 8:11). The important thing was for her to learn the lesson and, since she had learned it, to pass the final exam one day. Like Quigley, Jesus invites people over to his house or goes to theirs. In the case of Zacchaeus, this visit changed his life (see Luke 19:1-10).
But Christ has gone much farther than Quigley, because he has already told us what the only question in our final exam will be – we will be examined about love.
The incredible thing is this: it seems to be the case that, even if we fail love, there still is a make-up test. In the Bible we read the story of a final exam with the Teacher. And the pupil does not pass this test on love. He is nowadays called the Good Thief, but he was not good, and he was not merely a thief, because thieves were not crucified. He was a criminal. His wrongs were many, and maybe his whole life was nothing but one big wrong from the beginning. He comes to the final exam with an extremely bad record, and his life is a very bad answer to the final question. But this man has faith in his Teacher: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
I think Mr. Hunter would have said, “Damned you!” But Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. I have taken your place on the cross and, not content with bearing your sins and mistakes, I have decided that all my merits be credited to your account.”
According to our standards, no one in the whole Gospel deserves less to be saved, as he has but a few minutes left to repair all the damage he had done, to pay all his debts. Yet there is no one in the Gospel to whom the certainty of final salvation is stated with such assuredness. That is because Christ’s attention is not focused on the criminal's sinful life, but on those final words full of faith. The Teacher has discovered the only good thing in the life of this man, and then chooses to examine him on that.
We have our faith focused on the Teacher. Let us not place it on our personal merit, like that Pharisee in the temple, because God sent his Son, not in order to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through him. As long as I am living here, I want to be as good as I can, because the Teacher has faith in me and I don't want to disappoint him. But in order to pass the final exam, I have faith in him, because he does not want to disappoint me.
By the way, I know that many young people think that what the Lord did
on the cross with this man was not very fair, but neither was it fair for
a righteous man to take our place on the cross.
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