Some years ago an advert was run on television with the aim of inspiring people to consider a career in teaching. In the advert a number of famous people mentioned the names of teachers who had inspired them and who, in some way, were responsible for the person’s choice of career and their ‘success.’ There is no doubt that good teachers are capable of inspiring us and giving us a life-long interest in their area of expertise. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful A level teachers. These teachers helped me to believe in myself and in the ability of my mind. I will be forever grateful. I hope that many of you will have also benefited from some excellent and passionate teachers. Some of you I know are, or have been, excellent teachers; thank you.
Today’s gospel reading starts with the phrase ‘then he began to teach them.’ It struck me, as I was reading the gospel earlier this week, that one of our challenges, or invitations, in Lent is simply this: to allow ourselves to be taught by the best of all teachers: Jesus. But, let me offer you a note of warning: allowing yourself to be taught by Jesus is no guarantee of success, in fact in worldly terms you may begin to look something of a failure!
Being taught, or becoming a disciple, implies giving ourselves the space and time to learn. It also implies relationship. In ordinary everyday life we can’t really learn from someone unless we commit to spending time with them. Its the same with our faith: we can’t really learn from Jesus unless we commit to spending time with Jesus, in prayer and in bible study. To learn well takes time and effort, it really can’t be done on just one hour a week. Are you carving out some time each and every day to spend time with Jesus; learning from Jesus?
Like all teachers Jesus, if we let him, can be demanding. Jesus’ interest, as the supreme teacher, isn’t simply about imparting knowledge, facts, data but rather about shaping our characters. Of course he also wants to point the way to some eternal truths. As a teacher what he wants us to know is that our eternal destiny is tied up with his destiny. The relationship between us, as learners, and Jesus as teacher is to be a covenant relationship. Jesus is a teacher who will never let us down. Yes, we might have to endure real pain and suffering, yes we have to take ‘up our cross,’ and ‘follow,’ but the promise is that it will all, in the end, be worthwhile. Jesus’ message is paradoxical because what he is saying to us is that if we are prepared to ‘lose’ our lives, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, then we will ‘save it.’
So what does losing our lives imply? Well, for me it implies two things: First, making God the centre of our lives and trusting in him just as Jesus did, and just as Abraham did, When we do so, as Abraham and Sarah found out, the unexpected and the miraculous might just happen. Secondly, it implies giving up the fantasy that we can, in any real and significant way, be the authors of our own story. To believe that we can script, navigate and act out our every whim, fantasy and desire is the ultimate fantasy and arrogance. To believe that we are autonomous, self determining and in charge is, ultimately, a strategy for failure. It is a strategy in the words of the gospel that is without ‘profit.’
What God is saying, through Jesus, is that we must learn to trust in him and him alone, and that as Christians we must, through the practice of learning from Jesus, learn to live our lives in an entirely different way. The way we must learn to live is the Christ-like way and, as the Gospel reading tells us, that means letting go of our fantasies, but the paradox is this: that by learning to lose, by relinquishing our fantasies, through taming our egos, what we actually end up doing is winning, or ‘profiting.’
Jesus as all good teachers wants to open up for us a whole new way of knowing, believing and relating. As followers, students, and disciples our Lenten challenge is simply this: to commit some time each and every day to prayer and reading the bible so that we can learn from the one who desires to teach us the deepest and eternal truths; Jesus. Amen.