The Lord's Students

I like thinking about Jesus as a teacher. Perhaps a pastor likes to think about Jesus as a preacher, but since I am a teacher, I like to think about him in teaching terms. Why? Because it gives me hope, especially when I get down on myself as a teacher, when I think of myself as being ineffective. Jesus was perfect in all that he did, but it seemed like he didn't get perfect results. Phew! If the perfect teacher didn't get perfect results, why would I expect to do any better when I am an imperfect human being? My goodness! If the Son of God - God Almighty clothed in human flesh - could not reach all of his students despite living among them for three straight years, is it realistic for me to expect to reach all my students when I see them for only 6 hours a day for 180 days, at best? I may give my very best effort and not succeed. This is not an excuse to give up or, God forbid, not even try to reach every student. No! Ephesians 6:13 says, "having done all," and as Spirit-filled teachers with hearts quickened by love and grace, we do all we can to reach each student God places in our classrooms.

But look at Jesus' students. What a motley crew! He did not have the cream of the crop for his class, the Advanced Placement/Honors students coveted by most teachers. And it amazes me to think that of all the students he could have chosen, he picked the ones he did! It seems to me that he chose a group of students that most teachers would not have voluntarily asked to fill their classrooms. Most of them were either uneducated or, at best, not well-educated. Some were not the straightest of arrows, like the tax collector-turned student, and one student, a fisherman, tried to disqualify himself from the class because he was such a sinful man. It seems as though the one promising student in the class was a respectable guy named Judas Iscariot, and he turned out to be the rottenest apple in the barrel.

I was thinking this evening about Peter, James, and John. Perhaps it is because I have been working on the church Easter play that this thought came to mind about these guys, because I had never had this thought before in connection with students and teachers. Peter, James, and John are portrayed this year by two young men who are my former students and one young man who is a former camper that I had in my cabin for a couple of years at Camp Life. They are all awesome, godly guys, but, for some reason, when I started thinking abut Jesus as a teacher, I saw these biblical characters in a new light because of our past history and their performances in the play. 

Peter, James, and John are often referred to as Jesus' inner circle. He chose them to go with him when he raised a dead girl back to life, when he climbed up the Mount of Transfiguration, and when he went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some people like to think of them as Jesus' closest friends among the twelve disciples, but tonight in the context of the teacher-student relationship, I am thinking of these three in this light: Peter, James, and John were the students Jesus couldn't leave on their own out of his sight. 

Every teacher has a student or two that needs some extra attention. Often, these students have their desks located in special places, sometimes right beside the teacher's desk. On field trips, the teacher will often assign these students to his or her own group to supervise. These students need to be near the teacher in order to have a successful day in school. 

Peter was often impulsive, speaking out when he ought to have been quiet, making rash promises he could not keep, even lopping off a guy's ear with a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed. He was the one who wanted to get out of the boat and walk on water with his teacher. He liked being the center of attention, but he was also the one who saw himself as the wicked sinner and probably wrestled with self-image problems as the guy who, though well-intentioned, always seemed to screw-up. He probably had a special seat toward the back of the classroom where he would be less of a distraction to the other students. Jesus made a point of taking extra time with Peter beside the Sea of Galilee to let him know that he was okay and that, despite his failure, his teacher still loved and accepted him.

James and John, nicknamed "the sons of thunder," were the ones vying for positions of importance in Christ's kingdom. Sons of Thunder? To me this sounds like two brothers with explosive tempers who were ready to fight at the slightest provocation. These brawlers probably grew up trying to outdo each other, with James, the bigger, older brother in my mind, always coming out ahead in their fights. James would probably torment John and goad him into fighting. If James was in the same class as his younger brother, he had been held back a year for some reason, and likely needed extra help from his teacher.

John, the easily provoked younger brother, may have been the neediest student of them all, because Jesus kept him so close that John could rest his head upon his chest at the last supper. His desk would have been right beside the teacher's desk, and James would not be seated anywhere near his brother. John, who called himself the student that Jesus loved, did not see having his desk pulled up right next to the teacher's desk as a punishment; he saw it as a sign of the teacher's great love for him. He needed his teacher's love.

Judas may have been the good student, proud of his grades and his attendance record and the fact that he had never been sent to the principal's office. Judas turned bad out of jealousy of the extra attention given to these three "problem" students. Like the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son, he may have thought that he should have gotten the teacher's extra attention for always doing the right thing, at least in his own eyes; he probably thought he was owed the money he stole from the class treasury. He probably sat in the front row and always raised his hand and had the right answer. He probably volunteered to help, but was often passed over by the teacher who gave the responsibility to hand out the books or collect the papers to someone like Peter, James, or John who needed to learn how to be responsible. When his pride hurt him enough, he saw his chance to let the teacher know his displeasure, and he took it. He made the teacher pay for not giving him his due.

I realize that I may be getting very fanciful here and taking much too much poetic license with this idea, but it helps me to think about Jesus as a teacher, like me, and to realize that although we need to love all of our students, it is fair to not treat every student the same. Students must be taught that fair doesn't mean equal. We are not all the same and we all cannot be treated the same. God loves us all, but he does not deal with us all the exact same way, unless you want to say that we are all treated by God in grace. But grace and love meet us where we are, and we are all at different places in our lives. We are a diverse group of learners, and our Heavenly Teacher, who knows us down to our DNA and beyond, has a special lesson plan for each of us, and disciplines us individually too. We aren't to be comparing ourselves with the other students in the classroom, but we are to keep our eyes fixed on the Teacher and to bear his yoke, learn of him, and find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29).

And no matter what I do as a teacher, even having done all, as I believe Jesus did, we may not reach every student. I marvel at how many times Jesus taught and re-taught, through word and deed. (He did miracles for classroom demonstrations, for crying out loud!) Still, his students really did not seem to understand what he was talking about and showing them until he was gone! The teacher graduated to Heaven, and at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came, it finally all became clear to them, and the students became the teachers and turned their world upside-down. The Teacher did his job - he went so far as to lay down his life for his students - but he did not see his students really apply what they had learned from him while they were in his classroom. Remember that when you get discouraged as a teacher, or as a parent, or even as a student - investments need time to grow.

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