Monday, September 7, 2015

The Teaching Profession

I used to think that I wanted to be a teacher, but then I read the lessons for this coming Sunday. In Isaiah 50, we hear of a teacher's miserable fate: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher...I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting." James warns those who think of becoming a teacher to think again: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." If that weren't enough, Jesus takes time to explain to the disciples the core of his mission and message only to be rejected by his closest followers: "Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again...And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him." This Sunday seems to be about teaching, but I don't like what it says.

Teaching is hard in any context. Have you ever had teach a fifth grader how to read? Have you ever tried to get general chemistry into the mind of a thick-headed eleventh grader? On top of that, we pay the women and men who teach our children a ridiculously low sum and give them funding that isn't sufficient to get the job done. (Here's an interruption for a political side note. Think your local schools need improvement? Wish better teachers worked in our schools? Want our nation's economy to be built upon the brightest minds in the world? Let's raise taxes until we can double the salaries of educators and fully fund our schools.) Teaching is difficult in the secular world, but it's also tough in the sacred sphere.

Religious teachers are called upon to convey the truths that people find most difficult to hear. They are the counter-intuitive, fly-in-the-face-of-human-logic principles upon which religion is built. God chooses the least to become great and the weak to become strong. If you surrender a tithe of your first fruits, you will discover blessing. If you make alliances with your unholy neighbors, you will become a weaker nation. If you want to discover true life, you must die to this one. God's messiah will be rejected and killed and after three days rise again. Who wants to hear that? Who can hear that?

Isaiah's voice shows us what happens when a God-sent teacher brings his or her God-ordained message to the world. The world rejects both teaching and teacher--to the point that the prophet only has God on his side: "The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near." Similarly, Jesus, after conveying the heart of God's upside-down gospel, is rebuked--rebuked!--by his own disciple and, eventually, killed by the religious authorities. The alternative is portrayed by James, who warns that those who are called to be teachers better not water down the teaching as they will be judged with greater strictness. Fun all around, huh?

Like it or not, I am a teacher. I first heard a call to ordained ministry within the context of being a teacher. I love teaching. It's what I do. I wanted to teach chemistry, but God had other plans. And, because I'm not teaching something of my own choosing, I must recognize that this teaching doesn't belong to me. It's the upside-down message of the gospel. It's supposed to be a hard thing to teach. It's supposed to make people uncomfortable. If I'm going to be that teacher and won't get the comfort of the world, I need to have the confidence of Isaiah. I need to remember the resolve of Jesus. I need to consider the warning of James. In other words, I need to be a student of God's word and a person of deep prayer.

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