In the Gospel passage for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, why does Jesus describe flaws of some teachers as being attitudes that their pupils, in all ages, must avoid at all costs?
It is because, at a mere human level, fully trained disciples, who have imitated their teachers, while putting forth their best effort and with their best intentions in mind, will not be superior to them. Hence, if teachers are blind guides, their pupils will follow them into the same pit. If teachers deliver their lessons without having first gone through a thorough introspection of their mind and heart, in their teaching, they will, at best, scratch the surface of weighty matters rather than delve into the heart of the issues considered.
With a flair for exaggerations, common in the Orient, Jesus uses the analogy of focusing on a little speck rather than on a large wooden beam right in front of everyone. (Perhaps, we, westerners, would use the analogy of the elephant in the room which would be impossible to ignore.) And, referring to the worst possible scenario, Jesus reminds us that if some teachers are evil, they will produce evil in their pupils out of a store of evil … from the fullness of the heart.
In the course of our liturgy, as we feed at the Table of God’s Word, Jesus offers us this lesson on teachers and disciples in view of having all of us embrace his lesson of joyous service of each other, which he first taught during the Last Supper:
So, when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. (John 13:12-15)
While many of us are called to be teachers in imitation of Jesus Christ, all of us are called to be his pupils.
Teachers of our Catholic faith are, primarily, the bishops, the priests and the deacons; but also, religious education teachers and all those who assist them in this important task. At home, parents are their children’s first and most important teachers in all aspects of life. And they should never relinquish that crucial task into the hands of ruthless predators of parental rights. I hope that all parents here present appreciate and heed this warning! Obviously, in schools of all kinds and at all levels, there are teachers specialized in their fields of knowledge, and so on.
But it is worth repeating, all of us are expected to be eager, attentive and diligent disciples of the divine Teacher (Jesus). As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers [and sisters]. (Matthew 23:8)
As good disciples, here are ways of living out the lesson of washing each other’s feet, the lesson of joyous, loving service of each other:
It is possible only if it originates from a heart filled by genuine humility: “learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:29)
Humility will lead us to be always enlightened by the Holy Spirit as we guide people in our charge on the path to salvation.
Genuine humility will also keep us from rushing to judge and to condemn others.
Again, in the light of the Holy Spirit, humility will force us to be habitually introspective and, thus, constantly in contact with what goes on in the recesses of our heart.
Accurate knowledge of our drives, inclinations, tendencies and desires will make us cautious and able to detect the similarities between the speck we immediately notice in the eye of people close to us, including those in our charge, and the wooden beam in ours, which we might have ignored for a long time.
Humility will alert us whenever we tend to wear the mask of self-righteousness, of superiority, of pretention to cover any phoniness and inconsistency.
Humility will make us serene in acknowledging and owning up to our flaws, inadequacies, limited understanding and any mistake.
Humility will draw us closer and closer to Christ Jesus, the divine Teacher, who alone has words of wisdom and life.
Treasuring Jesus’s lessons and words of infinite wisdom will enable us to sort what comes out of people’s mouths lest we will be misled, or we mislead those in our charge: “Praise no one before he speaks. For it is then that people are tested.” (Sirach 27:7)
We should apply the wisdom offered by Jesus also in our choosing officials upon whom we rely on to serve us and our interests at all levels of government for the protection of everyone’s life, for liberty, and for the pursuit of happiness. It will soon become quite clear if what comes out of their mouth is foolishness and nonsense or sincere concern for the wellbeing of all and it is confirmed by their good deeds.
In the end, humility will help us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to imitate Christ Jesus by shifting from self-interest and self-advancement to sincere concern for the wellbeing of others so as to serve them joyfully by bearing and sharing with them the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22)
Hence, at least once a week, we shall assemble with eagerness and open-mindedness to continue being taught by our divine Teacher.
Of course, we do it with full knowledge that we will never be equal to him; nor that we will be as perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (cf. Matthew 5:48) or as compassionate as He is (cf. Luke 6:36). But, excitedly, we take Jesus’ lessons because, in the help of the Holy Spirit, we desire to bear the best possible fruit to serve all those people whom he has placed in our life.
“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit […] (Luke 6:43-44)