The Wisest Teacher

Never in history has so much information been accessible: one need simply turn on a computer and connect to the Web. Yet information is not the same as wisdom. Information demands a context or intellectual framework; it requires interpretation and calls out for practical action or implementation. Those processes are what we mean by wisdom. Today’s Scripture readings remind us that in Jesus we have the wisest teacher of all.

To many of his contemporaries Jesus would have looked like just one more Jewish wisdom teacher. He attracted a core of students, or disciples, and used literary forms employed by ancient wisdom teachers: proverbs, warnings, parables and so on. He gave instructions about happiness, money matters, sexuality and social relations, as did other Jewish wisdom teachers.

Today’s reading from Matthew 11 shows us that Jesus was uniquely wise, however, in that the wisdom of Jesus was divine teaching. In what sounds like a saying from John’s Gospel, Jesus himself proclaims that his teaching had been revealed to him by his heavenly Father and that he had intimate knowledge of the Father and the Father’s wisdom. His wisdom, then, is divine revelation.

Jesus enjoyed his greatest success with unlikely persons, whom he calls “the childlike.” These were the simple people of Galilee, some of whom were regarded as “sinners,” but whose minds and hearts were nevertheless open enough to receive Jesus’ wisdom and to act upon it.

In a kind of “infomercial” for his wisdom school, Jesus invites all who labor and are burdened to come, and he promises them rest. Jesus uses the image of a yoke, a harness placed on beasts of burden like oxen when they shared a load like pulling a plow or powering a mill. He insists that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Jesus characterizes himself as gentle and humble of heart. Today’s Old Testament passage from Zechariah 9, with its picture of a “meek” Messiah figure, portrays Jesus as more than a simple teacher. The final product of Jesus’ invitation is “rest,” or what might be called peace of soul.

Who was the best teacher you ever had? It was probably someone who could reach the slowest students while also challenging everyone in the class to go beyond the superficial, someone who made you work hard, but in helping you learn a lot, made learning seem easy and refreshing. Jesus the master teacher did all of these things. But this teacher is also the Messiah and the Son of God. He was and is a special teacher, and his school was and is an ideal place to learn genuine wisdom.

This Sunday we begin a series of five readings concerning “life in the Spirit” from Romans 8, one of the most important chapters in the New Testament. In general, Paul’s teaching focused on the effects of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in our lives. In today’s excerpt he explains that Christian spirituality proceeds from the initiative of the Holy Spirit, and that it means living in the realm of the “spirit” (as opposed to the “flesh”).


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