Monday, January 30, 2012

Teaching Jesus


Teachers have made a remarkable difference in my life.  Listing just the influential ones would create a tiresomely long list.  Each of them broadened my vision or cracked open some protective shell I had constructed or smoothed the hard edges they found when I came to them.
It seems to me that God placed these men and women in my life to shape me in ways that I could not imagine, to point me to a path I could never have found on my own, to encourage me to dream of things bigger than myself, and to inspire me to surrender myself to the life offered to me by grace.
As grateful as I am for these teachers, I am quick to say that Jesus is my chief Teacher.  He is of course my Savior, my Lord, and even my Friend.  But being a follower of Jesus also means sitting at the feet of Jesus as our Rabbi.
Tintoretto, Christ in the House of Mary and Martha
Mark tells us that Jesus wowed them at the local synagogue.  The crowds buzzed about his teaching.  “They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.”  (Mark 1:22)  
And yet, Mark provides no record of the words he spoke.  Instead, we read that Jesus exorcised an unclean spirit from a man present in the synagogue that day.  (Mark 1:23-26)  I suggest that this is no oversight.  Instead, Mark recorded the most important element of Jesus’ teaching that day: his authority.  
Jesus demonstrated the power of the Word of God—the power of his teaching—through that exorcism.  His word released the man from the demonic shadow cast over his life.  Jesus’ word has power.  It transforms the faithful hearer.

The people in the synagogue contrasted Jesus’ teaching with the scribes.  The scribes were official interpreters of scripture.  They held the office and knew their material.  They could recite the text by heart and even knew all the commentaries.  But their teaching conveyed information.  Jesus’ teaching conveyed the very power of God.
Jesus teaches us through the Bible.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we do more than merely comprehend words on a page.  We encounter the very Word of God: the crucified and risen Jesus.
The authority of the Bible is really the authority of Jesus.  The Bible is where we meet Jesus as our greatest teacher.  And what he teaches us is himself.
Christians have been reflecting on and arguing about the Bible’s authority for some time, driven largely in these last few decades by arguments about human sexuality.  
Some progressive thinkers tag those who insist on the authority of Scripture with terms like fundamentalist and literalist.  In turn, some who defend the Bible’s authority grow suspicious of historical-critical tools and suggest that a plain reading requires no interpretation.
Simon Vouet, St. Jerome and the Angel
This is what I suggest.  The Bible tells us the truth about God, human nature, the purpose of all things, and the moral law.  And yet, we will miss the Bible’s power if we treat it merely as a textbook, a list of predictions, and a rulebook.
The Bible is a book like no other.  Books of philosophy and poetry and even science can reflect God and tell us much about His creation.  But the Bible is the only Book through which God himself speaks for himself.
God’s Word is creative.  In the beginning, God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence.  Jesus speaks the Word and we are healed of sin and death.
In her book Grace (Eventually), Anne Lamott describes the beginnings of her conversion.  Although she was not reading the Bible, she was beginning to experience the life-changing authority of Jesus’ teaching.  This is what she says in her own words:
People say about experiences like this that “the veil lifted,” but for me, for the whole day, it was as if an itchy burlap sack had come off my head.  Molecules shifted, as in the shimmer before a migraine, the ocular shift at the edges, where I felt as if I might be having a stroke… I felt as though I were snorkeling one concentric circle outside where I had been before.  (p. 9)
Jesus teaches with authority, the authority of the Word that ransoms and redeems the world.

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