In the New Testament, we find many titles for our Lord. He is the Christ (or Messiah), the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Word, the King of kings, the great high priest, and many more. One that speaks to me is his title as “teacher.” We find Jesus referred to as “teacher” by many people in the Gospels, including Jesus himself. Jesus’ enemies call him teacher in verses like Matthew 9:11. The disciples call Jesus their teacher in John 1:38. Jesus identifies himself as our teacher in John 13:13.
I launched the St. Philip Institute to teach the Catholic Faith more effectively in our diocese and beyond; so it would be good to meditate on Jesus’ role as teacher, as well as what that means for our lives.
This is Eternal Life (John 17:3)
I’ve presided over more than a few weddings, mostly as a priest before I became a bishop. One thing pretty much all those happy couples had in common was that they spent time getting to know each other. A man and woman get to know each other deeply before they enter into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The love between them is born from their knowledge of one another.
Our Lord wants this kind of relationship with us; he wants a relationship built on mutual knowledge, like a good marriage. Of course, he knows us better than we could ever hope to know ourselves. In order to love him in return, we must know him. Jesus says, in the Gospel according to St. Luke, that you must love God with “all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). Real love of God is born from knowledge of God. This is why God reveals himself to us: he loves us and wants us to love him.
He also calls us to be disciples. The word “disciple” means “learner” or “student.” Our role as Christians is to study at the foot of our master teacher: Jesus Christ. We cannot love God unless we learn about him, unless we become disciples. The more we learn about him, the more we are able to love him. This is why our whole lives should be devoted to learning more about Jesus Christ, so that we can come to love him more. In addition, coming to know God more and more gets us closer to heaven. Jesus says that eternal life is knowing the only true God.
They will all be taught by God (John 6:45)
We are taught by God in three primary ways: first by creation, second by revelation, and third by instruction. St. Paul says, “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).
In God’s very act of creating the universe, he reveals himself as a loving God. The simple things in the natural world teach us about his beauty and majesty. I think especially of an east Texas sunrise in the winter. The frost glistens in the new day’s sunlight shining through the pine trees. The silent beauty of this new dawn can be breathtaking.
We can also learn about his existence by reasoning about the universe and existence itself. It takes plenty of work to reason all the way to the right conclusions, however. Coming to knowledge of God through reasoning about nature is difficult. It requires a lot of intellectual heavy-lifting. Even though we should clearly perceive his eternal glory and majesty through the things he has created, often times we do not. St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae I.1.1) gives three reasons why that is the case:
- not many people will actually put the intellectual work in to finding out about God;
- those who do put the work in will take a long time to come to knowledge of God;
- and that knowledge of God will be mixed in with errors about him as well.
Because of these things, God also reveals himself to us. He used human beings as instruments with which to write the books of the Old and New Testaments. He didn’t force them, nor did he dictate to them. He used their free will and personal styles to have written everything he wanted written for the sake of our salvation. God is the real author of Scripture, and in fact he is the primary author, but he employed the intellect and will of free human beings to get this done. He also reveals himself in the Sacred Tradition handed on to us from the Apostles. We especially find this tradition in the Liturgy, but also in doctrines held in seed form from the beginning of the Church’s long history.
He who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9)
The ultimate revelation of God is his incarnate Son. In Jesus Christ, we learn more about God than in any written book. Jesus is both the Truth and the Teacher.
He is the Truth because he is God himself. The Letter to the Hebrews opens with these words:
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the ages. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.
God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is full and complete. By knowing Jesus, the divine second person of the Holy Trinity, we know God himself. This is why Jesus calls himself “the Truth” (John 14:6). Jesus himself is the content of what God wants to teach us. Not only is he the content of the teaching, Jesus is also the teacher par excellence. He teaches us in two primary ways: he teaches us as a man, and he teaches us as God.
The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority (John 14:10)
We find Jesus teaching as man when we hear the content of his preaching. This is why it is so important to read Scripture. St. Jerome says, “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Most especially, I encourage all in the Diocese of Tyler to meditate on the Gospels every day. Attending daily Mass is a marvelous way to enter deeply into the content of Jesus’ teaching on a regular basis. In the Mass, we hear the teachings of Christ in the Gospel, but also that teaching is handed on to us by the priest in his homily.
In the Mass, the priest teaches explicitly through his homily and implicitly through his care and fidelity in the celebration.
If you cannot attend daily Mass, just reading a few verses out of the Gospels each day is a healthy habit to acquire, and doesn’t take too much time.
The Gospels also give us stories of Jesus teaching by example. He teaches about his divinity by walking on the water. He teaches about his humanity by eating with his disciples. Most importantly, he teaches about the profound love of God, and what love looks like, by going to the cross to suffer and die for our sins.
Jesus taught his Apostles in a unique way. They heard the content of his preaching, as did the crowds, but he also explained it to them on a deeper level in private. Jesus took three years to form these men into ministers of his new covenant before ascending to the Father. Jesus then left the Apostles with the mission of running the Church, especially in teaching people the Truth (Matt 28:19-20), which is handing on Jesus Christ himself to God’s people. Then they appointed others to succeed them in this teaching mission. Those men appointed others, and on until the present day. This is the role of all Christians, but in a special way, it is my responsibility as Bishop, as successor to the Apostles, to hand on the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.
The Holy Spirit. . . will teach you all things (John 14:26)
When he left the Apostles and their successors to run the Church, Jesus didn’t leave them alone. The second way Jesus teaches us is as God. As God, he can do what no human teacher can: he can teach us interiorly. As man, Jesus teaches exteriorly by presenting us with the Truth. As God, he can actually illuminate our minds and hearts from within our soul. He does this by giving us his Holy Spirit, especially through the sacraments. Jesus promised that he would send the Holy Spirit for this exact purpose: “These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring you to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26).
The Holy Spirit then illumines our minds and moves us closer to the Truth.
In the sacraments, we receive God’s grace; we receive his very life. God gives us life by living in us. Even here on earth, we receive the eternal life of God through the Sacraments of the Church. With God living in us, he teaches us about himself in a profound way, by illuminating our minds. This is the most intimate form of knowing God. This is the principle way here on earth in which we love God with our whole minds.
Heaven is nothing more than knowing and loving God. This is how we get there, even before we die: in the frequent partaking of the sacraments, we come to know God intimately as our beloved. And in those sacraments, we come to know deeper that profound love God has for each of us. In the context of the Eucharist, we hear these words of the lips of our Lord: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
This article was originally published in Volume 32, Issue 1 of the print edition of the Catholic East Texas.