In defense of the annoying student
A Reflection for Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
Teachers often talk about exasperating students whom we secretly like, the kind of student who asks too many questions, bugs us after class and makes silly mistakes, but who always keeps trying and showing up. This is how I think of Simon Peter and the rest of the apostles. Physically worn out, tired of being followed around by the increasing packs of strangers who have attached themselves to their charismatic teacher, these fishers do not want to go back to work after being up all night.
Plenty of the saints were annoying, exhausted, burned-out students themselves, but they dropped everything and followed because they wanted to learn, so that one day, they too could teach.
But they do. The apostles return to their boats and their nets once more. Why? There is no obvious reward, no promise that there really will be fish this time. They do it again because Jesus is that good of a teacher. The best teachers understand when we feel the most depleted, the most robbed of the capacity to continue, that this is when we can push through one more time and make a miracle happen. Some of my own professors helped me to do this when I was ready to quit. Try one more time, they’d gently suggest. Go back and find one more source, do one more interview, write one more draft. Just try again. Surely, I was their most annoying student, too, always outside in the hallway during office hours, bugging them for more reading suggestions, secretly hoping that I would someday earn a job like theirs.
In Robertson Davies’ novel The Rebel Angels, a young scholar says that what her professors saw in her was not promise, but something else: an unslakable thirst for knowledge that marked her as a member of their cabal. Peter and the other apostles, who “leave everything” to follow Jesus, might not be in pursuit of something as concrete as a degree, but they are in search of something Christians will always be students of: gnosis, the same knowledge of the divine that the saints possessed. Plenty of the saints were annoying, exhausted, burned-out students themselves, but they dropped everything and followed because they wanted to learn, so that one day, they too could teach.