“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering.” (Mark 8:31)

 

Did you ever have a truly inspiring teacher? In your schooldays, was there someone who really made a subject come alive? A teacher who embodied the excitement and appeal of a subject so that you could feel it, too?There’s a very cruel saying that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. The best teachers, of course, both do and teach. The science teacher whose practical experiments are inspirational and fun. The swimming tutor who jumps in the water and shows you how to do the stroke. The football coach who is on the pitch with you, not standing on the touchline. The drama teacher who gets the best out of every student by taking each role in turn.The same applies to those with no formal title as teacher, but who still teach us about life, and about faith – in the practical example of their own faithful lives.God the teacher knows the value of the practical example. The Creator didn’t stand at the front of a music class, dictating how many sharps and flats should be in each scale. God dressed a song in feathers and lovingly released it into the sky.

 

In Jesus, God gave us the supreme example of divine love for human beings, by becoming human. By getting in the water, joining in the game, showing us exactly how the part should be played. Both teacher and example, the embodiment of the lesson, making it come alive.Some lessons are easier to learn than others. Peter accepted that Jesus was the Messiah. What he found more difficult to understand was the kind of Messiah Jesus was. In fact, all of the pupils around Jesus (that is, after all, what “disciples” means!) found it very hard to absorb their teacher’s difficult lessons. About suffering and redemption. About humility and forgiveness. About the nature of God, and of the Messiah.Jesus knew that he would have to show, rather than tell. He would have to do, not just say.Mark’s Gospel is very much about Jesus doing. There are no long teaching passages, no direct parallels to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount or Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. But Mark’s Jesus does employ one obvious technique of a teacher – repetition. Three times in three chapters, beginning with Mark chapter 8, Jesus speaks about his coming death… to hammer the point home, like nails through stubborn flesh.

 

On the 14th September the Church celebrates Holy Cross Day, and the cross is the focus of Mark’s Gospel, more so even than the others. The cross, the ultimate example, the teaching aid beyond comparison.Jesus didn’t just say, “Love God with all your heart.” He showed his own love for his heavenly Father by accepting his destiny on the cross.Jesus didn’t just say, “Love your neighbours.” He laid down his life for them.Jesus didn’t just say, “Love your enemies.” On the cross he forgave them and prayed for them.Jesus lived and died the lesson of love, to open a new and living way into God’s presence. And he asks us to take up our own cross, to follow him, to be prepared to make sacrifices in the name of the one who made the greatest sacrifice of all.

 

Jesus is still teaching today, teaching us… and teaching through us. Not many of us have the formal title of teacher, whether in classroom or church. But we all have a teaching ministry, and we are all on teaching practice. It’s called practising what you preach. Living out, in the week and the world, what we say in church on Sunday. Following the supreme example of a teacher who put his words into action.But because we’re all human, all fallible, we won’t always get it right. And it won’t always be easy. It wasn’t easy going to the cross, as the anguish in Gethsemane revealed. For us, too, there are often difficult decisions, painful choices to make between what we want to do and what we know we ought to do… if we’re to witness faithfully to Jesus and take up our cross. “Those that can, do. Those that can’t, teach.” Not only is the saying unkind – it’s also inaccurate. Because those who can’t do, can’t teach. Not successfully anyway. The most effective teachers are those who also do. To use a modern idiom, if we’re to bring the good news of Jesus to others, it’s no good talking the talk if we don’t also walk the walk!

 

Rev’d Stuart Ansell

An Inspiring Teacher

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