Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Jesus, Questioning Teacher

Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say I am?" They answered, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others one of the prophets." "And you," he asked them, "who do you say I am?" Peter replied, "You are the Messiah." Then he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him; and he began to teach them that the Son of Man had to undergo great sufferings, and to be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and doctors of the law; to be put to death, and to rise again three days afterwards. He spoke about it plainly. At this Peter took him by the arm and began to rebuke him. But Jesus turned round, and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter, "Away with you, Satan," he said; "you think as men think, not as God thinks." Mark 8: 17-24

Some Christians think of Jesus only as the Savior forgetting that he spent years first being the Teacher. Indeed, in these gospel verses Jesus is walking along the road and the whole class is with him. And, good teacher that he is, as they walk, Jesus asks questions, first of the whole group and then by singling out Peter. The best teachers ask questions to get people thinking and not just to have information spouted back.

So Jesus asks something like, "What are people saying about me these days?" And the disciples give a pious answer: "Moses, Elijah, a prophet." But then Jesus turns the conversation, asking them about their own experience. Jesus is supposed to be a lived experience, not simply a truth we swear by: a faith-sentence on a page.

And when Peter chimes in with another pious answer, "You're the Messiah," Jesus, knowing that Messiah means super-king, takes the opportunity to open up for everyone the ideas of suffering, rejection, death and rising. Peter refuses that idea saying, "Oh, nothing doing Jesus. Don't even think it, Jesus." To this Jesus gets really angry: in a flash of bad temper even calling Peter, Satan, who thwarts God's purposes. 

Well, the Gospels are alive and as much about today as centuries ago, so the questions Jesus posed are for us to answer too. We can either wrestle with those questions or click escape

We might fill in the blank at the top of the page. But don't give a catechism answer, and (as I often say to people) don't use any religious sounding words in your answer: Savior, Redeemer, Blood of the Lamb, King, Lord, Messiah. Resorting to religious vocabulary is too easy. We might have to sit a long time to identify and express the deeply personal and interior experience of Jesus which is ours. 

"Christ, you have come to disturb us," Dostoevsky wrote. To be disturbed is the last thing many religious people want. But to allow my mind, my heart, my  consciousness, my inner aspect to be changed or troubled...?

We usually think of the disciple as a follower. But that's awfully passive. Instead, I'd say a disciple is a student. I want to be Jesus' pupil. That's why in every icon, even where he is depicted as a child, Jesus holds a scroll with a sentence for me to experience personally. Sometimes the scroll is rolled up (or the book is closed) leaving me to ponder what message Jesus has in store for me individually.

But could I suggest the message won't be: "There, there now, everything will be alright," but rather something more like, "Wake up now, sleeper!" And that message might be for our nation, for the world, for the Church...

Here in this mosaic of Christ the Teacher, Jesus seems to be looking off to the side of the classroom where so many of us hope to hide. What if I dared to open the teacher's book? Which, by the way, is not a grade book!


  1. Jesus is my one true friend.

  2. A priest is called to act in the place of Christ. He reflects Christ’s compassion and mercy to the world. On Father’s Day especially, I am eternally grateful that God in his infinite mercy sent you, Father Stephen, into my life in this way as a role model and agent of mercy, understanding and forgiveness.

  3. And how good God has been to me over the many years now, sending scores of people into my own life - full of goodness and life!

  4. As a student, I hated when teachers would call on me and ask questions. I would hide my head and not make eye contact, shrinking within myself hoping not to be noticed. I do this to Jesus also. I avoid the tough questions or answer too easily, like the Apostles. I read this and thought of myself. How right you are Father, I need to wake up and be ready to take the dare.

  5. And, "may the Lord bring to completion the good begun in you." Maybe make a hard copy of this mosaic Jesus scoping out the corners and keep it where you'll see it often. He scopes out the recesses and corners of each human heart. You're not alone in this.

  6. Thank you for your blogs, Fr Stephen. They always bring me to a place of prayer. Many times conflicted but God is faithful and merciful. Our help is in the name of the Lord and not most assuredly in this world. I keep thinking if we could or would just get it right things would be better in this world, just like the apostles thought , I'm sure. I do all I can in my own little world to keep my eyes focused on what God has in store for me each day.

  7. I can't solve the problems of the Middle East or the problem of terrorism...but I have my own little piece of the planet to care for. My awake prayer for the rest of the world says "I care." That matters.

    1. And you care for it and us so well. Thank you Father Stephen for all that you do. It does matter. It matters to me.