Jesus - The Teacher
Fr. Thomas Hopko · July 13, 2009
Fr. Tom Hopko continues his informative series on the Names of Jesus by exploring the term "Rabbi" or "Teacher" when referring to Jesus.
As we continue to meditate and think about the names and the titles of Jesus in the New Testament and as they’re used through Church history, we want to think today about the very first title given to Jesus in Scripture in public, and that is the title “Rabbi.” Jesus appears in history, after his baptism in the Jordan, his temptation by the devil in the wilderness. He comes forth and he begins to teach. And as a teacher, he is addressed by the people as “Rabbi.” And when he begins to collect followers in the Scripture, they are called “mathētai,” which means “disciples.” It’s translated “disciples” in the English Scriptures, which is a word that means a student, students, or pupils.
We first encounter Jesus on the pages of the Scriptures as a teacher, a rabbi. The word “rabbi” in Hebrew, of course, means “teacher.” And that’s even explained. For example, in St. John’s Gospel, in the beginning, probably because it was the Gospel originally for Jews, for the Jews who believed in Jesus but did not believe in him as the Logos incarnate and the Son of God, the Jews that believed in him simply as a rabbi; in St. John’s Gospel it begins by Jesus being called “Rabbi,” and then it’s actually written in the Gospel, “which means (which is to say) ‘Teacher’ (which is to say, ‘Teacher’).” And that is even done a couple of times in St. John’s Gospel, for example, in the beginning, when it says, “Rabbi, which, translated, is didaskalos or teacher,” you have that already in the first chapter. Then in the end of St. John’s Gospel, when Mary Magdalene encounters him risen from the dead in the garden, she says, “Rabboni,” and again the Gospel says, “ho legetai [‘didaskale’]—which is to say (or which means) ‘teacher.’ ”
So the New Testament is very, very clear that Jesus is Rabbi, that he is Teacher, that he emerges and begins his ministry as a teacher. And this is what you have already in the Gospel of Mark, the shortest Gospel, probably the earliest Gospel in some sense, where it says that after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” And then it says and they went into Capernaum after he chose Peter and Andrew to follow him and then John, the son of Zebedee, and his brother James to follow him; they went to Capernaum and immediately on the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and he taught.
So he begins teaching, and the synangogue is the place where teaching was done. The word “synagogue, synagogia,” it means where you assemble, where you gather together. By the way, nowadays, we should now recall that Jews really do not have temples. Sometimes in the city, the place of Jewish gathering will be called the “temple,” like “Temple Emmanuel” or something, but actually it’s not a temple. Certainly it’s not a temple in the biblical sense, because for the Jews, the only temple was the Temple in Jerusalem, where the priesthood was and where the sacrifices were offered, and that Temple no longer exists. It was destroyed by the Romans in the first century around 70 [A.D.], and never ever rebuilt.
But synagogues were all over the place, and in Jerusalem itself there were plenty of synagogues. And throughout Galilee, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin, there were synagogues. And a synagogue meant a place where Jews assembled—”synagogoi, came together”—for the sake of Torah, which means “instruction,” for the sake of instruction.
So Jesus teaches not only on mountaintops and by seashores, but he teaches in the synagogue. He goes into the synagogue and teaches. In St. Luke’s Gospel, that’s where he begins his teaching. He goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. The Scripture is opened. He reads the Prophet Isaiah, and then he says, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” So he begins in the synagogue, but also in the New Testament it’s very clear that Jesus taught in the Temple, that he went actually in the Jerusalem Temple and taught. For example, at the end of St. John’s Gospel, when they’re trying to arrest him and to take him, Jesus says, “Listen. I taught openly. I didn’t hide anything. I taught daily (it says) in the Temple and you heard what I had to say.” And then of course he continues by saying, “If I’m wrong, point out the wrong, but if I’m right, why are you beating me?”
Jesus then begins as a teacher and his followers are called students or disciples. He is the didaskalos and his followers are the mathētai, the disciples. It’s interesting also to note that Jesus gathered his first disciples from John the Baptist. And John the Baptist also was a teacher; he was a rabbi, a public teacher proclaiming the word of God, teaching the word of God.
So there were disciples of John that then went and followed Jesus, and we have that very specifically shown and taught in the Gospel according to St. John, where John the Baptist, it says, was standing with two of his disciples—that means he was their rabbi, he was their teacher—and he looked at Jesus and he walked and he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What do you seek?”
And they said to him, “Rabbi (which, translated, means ‘Teacher’)...”
That’s actually written in the text.
“...where are you staying?”
Rabbi, which translates “[didaskale]” (teacher), where are you staying?
And he said, “Come and see.”
This is all in the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel (John 1:35-39). And then, also, later on, in that very same chapter of St. John, at the end, when Philip and Nathanael were called, Nathanael and Philip, they come, and Nathanael says to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the king of Israel.” Now that’s very peculiar to St. John’s Gospel, that Jesus would be called God’s Son and Israel’s king right from the very beginning. You don’t find that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but John, of course, is the Gospel that’s presented, so to speak, from above, from on high, kind of the theological, eternal Gospel.
In any case, even with the confession in the first chapter that Jesus is the Son of God, the king of Israel, he’s still addressed as “Rabbi.” And here, when we look at the Scriptures and read them, we see that whenever anyone spoke to Jesus, when they addressed him with a vocative, it’s usually “Didaskale, Teacher” or “Kyrie, Lord.” So he’s addressed as “Lord,” or “Sir” or “Mister,” and then as “Rabbi” or “Teacher.”
An interesting thing that we have to point out from the very beginning is that in the King James translation of the Holy Scripture, the King James version of the Bible, that term, “Rabbi” or “Didaskalos,” “Teacher,” it is translated in the King James Version as “Master.” In the Revised Standard and other versions it’s “Teacher,” but in King James it’s “Master.” And that often led people to think that people were addressing Jesus as “Master,” meaning like a master of a manor or a master of a household or even perhaps as a slavemaster, a kind of a master in regard to servants, like, for example, in England you read these novels about how the people who served in the lord’s manor called the head of the household “Lord,” and even called him “Master”: “The master is coming” and so on.
But we should know, certainly we English-speakers should know, that in the King James Version, virtually all the time when it says “Master,” it really means “Teacher.” It’s “master” in the Latin sense of “magister.” It’s “master” in the sense of “master’s degree,” like when you’re educated, you get a master’s degree and you become a master. And a “master” means you are a teacher, a schoolmaster. That’s what “master” means virtually all the time in the Gospels. It does not mean at all, practically ever, does it mean “master” like a lord of a manor or a slavemaster or a master who rules over people. It’s “master” in the sense of “teacher.”
Sometimes there are other words there that are used, and we can point them out; there are several others. One is the term “despota, despotēs.” We Orthodox are very familiar, as we sing in church all the time, “Eis polla etē, Despota,” to our bishops: “Many years to you, O Master.” But the use of the term “despota” for bishop actually came from the Turkish period, when the bishops, as a matter of fact, were civil masters or rulers over the Christians or the Rōmaioi, or the Romans, in the Ottoman Empire. And that word is not used often in Scripture, but there’s one place where it is used, which is very interesting, because it’s not translated into English as “master.” And that particular text is translated as “Lord.” And that is in the canticle in St. Luke’s Gospel of Simeon the Elder when he holds Jesus in his arms, he says literally in Greek, “Nyn apolyeis—Lord, now let your doulos, your servant, depart in peace, Master.” And that’s “Despota.” That is “master” like a lord, like a ruler; it’s not “master” like a teacher.
It’s interesting that in English, it was translated “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,” and that’s how we Orthodox sing it in church all the time, and how it’s sung in the other Christian churches as well, translating the Scripture as “Lord.” But in fact, that’s the one place where you have this term for “master.”
There’s [another] term, “epistata,” [which] is used, and another term, “kathēgētēs,” is used in Matthew. “Kathēgētēs” is like an instructor. In fact, that’s the modern Greek word for “professor” at a university. “Kathēgētēs”: one who teaches from a kathedra; a kathedra is a seat from which there is a teacher.
In Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “Call no man ‘teacher’ (or ‘master’) upon the earth. One is your teacher (or your master), even Christ,” the word there is not “didaskalos” or “teacher” or “rabbi,” but it is “kathēgētēs” which means a kind of schoolteacher or a professor, an instructor in an institution. And then “epistata” means “the one who rules over.” You have that used in one place.
But the word that’s used again and again and again, all throughout the New Testament, is “didaskalos,” which simply means “teacher.” And the disciples are disciples, students. How often you have in the Scripture: “the Lord said to his disciples,” “his disciples came to him,” “he sat down his disciples”—and some of the disciples are “apostles.” And here, for the sake of our vocabulary, we want also to make the distinction here.
Jesus had many disciples, but not all the disciples were apostles. An apostle, “apostolos,” means a person who was sent, who was sent on a particular mission. So Jesus had the Twelve Apostles, and then according to Luke’s Gospel, there’s also 70 (or 72, depending on the variant reading), where Jesus sends them out to announce that the kingdom of God is present, the kingdom of God is coming; mainly it was to announce his own presence on the earth. But an apostle is a disciple who is sent on a mission, and “mission” is the Latin word for being sent: “mitto” in Latin means “ send”; “apostelō” in Greek means “ send.”
So not all disciples are apostles, but all apostles are disciples. You have to begin by being a disciple. And that is a truth. That is a principle which we should underline and emphasize. A Christian, first and foremost, is a disciple, a student. And Christ Jesus, for Christians, is first of all, before anything else, their teacher, their master, the one who instructs them, the one who teaches them the truth, the one who gives them the Gospel of God, the words of God.
Of course, [in] the Christian faith, as we already know, Jesus is identified as the Logos, the very Word itself; so he is the Teacher and he is the Word. And the Word of God that he teaches is, in some sense, himself! But you also have the plural: Jesus teaches the words. And Jesus even insists that his teaching is not his own, that his teaching he received from God the Father. When the people are astonished at his teaching—and that’s in all four Gospels, that they marvel at his teaching, they’re astonished at his teaching, they can’t believe what he is teaching; in John’s Gospel they say, “No man ever spoke like this man! Greater than Solomon is he!” or “Greater than Jonah in the Temple! Who is this man, anyway, who teaches this way?”; they are astonished and they say—they use that expression, that he teaches as one having authority, he teaches as one having exousia, having authority. “Not like the scribes,” it even says, but he teaches as one having authority.
You find that already in the first chapter of Mark, the shortest first Gospel of all. It says that this man taught them as one who had authority. For example, when they go into Capernuam, on the Sabbath day, and they enter the synagogue, and Jesus teaches, it says, “The people were astonished at his teaching for he taught them as one who had authority and not as the scribes.” The scribes, of course, are the Jewish teachers.
It’s interesting to note here that Archbishop Demetrios, the present ranking archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese [of] America, when he was a professor of Scripture at Harvard and at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological School in Brookline, he wrote a book, a commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark. It’s a very good book. I highly recommend that you read it. And the title of this book by Abp. Demetrios (Trakatellis) is Authority and Passion. What the archbishop said in his book when he wrote it was that in St. Mark’s Gospel you have this apocalyptic clash; the genre is apocalyptic between the truth of God and the falsehood of this world, between God and the demons. Jesus is in the midst of controversy from what he teaches in the very beginning, and the controversy is not only because of what he teaches but how he teaches. They’re astonished at what he says, and they’re astonished [at] how he says it, because he speaks as one having authority, not as the scribes.
So Abp. Demetrios underlines this point in his book, and then he says that authority, teaching with authority, that’s what led to the Passion. And we must never forget that what distinguishes the canonized Gospels, the canonical Gospels of the Christian Church, from the false and spurious gospels is the centrality of the Passion, the crucifixion of Christ, which is fully half of all four Gospels: they’re about the Passion. And so the archbishop says there’s authority in his teaching, how and what he says, and then it leads to his Passion, it leads to his death, it leads to his suffering and his rejection.
Now, that rejection of Jesus, it’s throughout the Gospels and it begins right at the beginning. In St. Mark’s Gospel it even says that his brethren came to him, his relatives, even with his mother, and they thought that he had gone crazy. They thought that he had lost his mind, that he was “beside himself,” as it says in the Scripture. They said, “Well, what’s wrong with this guy?” They try to get him to come home. They said, “He’s teaching incredible things!”
And then other people said he just was a devil, or that he was possessed by the devil, that he was a Samaritan and had a devil, and he taught from Beelzebul and he was blaspheming, and he was blaspheming the Law and he was misleading the people and he was desecrating the Temple and he was doing all these crazy things, you know. They said that what he was teaching was not acceptable, and they really were against him.
But then his own disciples, of course, they believed his teaching. And they believed that his teaching was from God, that it was not his own teaching. He did not make it up. And in St. John’s Gospel he says it very clearly. He says, “My will is not my own will. I do the will of my Father in heaven. My works are not my own works. I do the works of my Father in heaven who sent me, the one who sent me.” And then he says, for our purposes today, he says, “My words are not my words; they are the words of the Father who sent me.”
Now this point that Jesus speaks God’s words that he hears from God—and in St. John’s Gospel it says very, very clearly that he hears these words from God before he even was born, that Jesus was with God in the beginning. He is the Logos himself, who was God with God in the very beginning. And everything that he has, he has from God. His very divinity, his very being, his divine being is from the Father. He’s begotten of the Father eternally, before all ages. And everything that the Father is, he is; and everything that the Father has, he has; and everything that the Father knows, he knows. So all that he is bringing to the world, all that he is teaching, is from God face-to-face.
So the Gospels often make a comparison and a contrast between Jesus and Moses. They’ll say, “Well, Moses was taught by God. Moses spoke with God as a friend, face-to-face.” Moses entered the Tabernacle; he entered the Temple. He went into the holy place. There was the mercy seat, and God instructed Moses, and Moses gave God’s laws, God’s precepts, God’s commandments to the people. They were not Moses’. They were not his own. They were from God.
But, as it says in the Letter to the Hebrews, Moses learned from God as a servant, as a creature. God’s Son, Jesus, learns from God as a Son. And it says in the Letter to the Hebrews that the Son is greater, far greater over the house than the servant is. The servant serves in the name of the master, but the son himself is the master over the house, that he is beyond compare more authoritative than someone who is a servant.
Now, certainly, Jesus is called the servant of God, and we’ll reflect on why he’s called the servant, especially the suffering servant of God, but we have to know that he was a Son. So, for example, the Letter to the Hebrews begins with these words:
In many and various ways, God spoke to our fathers of old (spoke of old to our fathers) through the prophets (and the prophets would include Moses, of course) 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, and this Son reflects the glory of God.
Or more literally, he is the glory of God, the splendor of God, the apavgasma tēs doxēs tou theou, the exact expression, glory, of God, and he is the very charaktēr, the very express image of the Father’s very own person. And then the Letter to the Hebrews keeps comparing and contrasting Jesus as the Son of God to angels and to servants and to Moses, so he is really God’s real own Son.
So the Gospels are really insisting that what Jesus hears to say he has heard from the Father from before the foundation of the world. He has heard it face-to-face. He has a face-to-face relationship to God the Father in eternity, in heaven, so to speak, not simply on earth, and as a Son, not as a servant, as God’s own begotten Son and not as a creature. He is not a creature. The Orthodox Church is very clear on this point; according to the Scriptures, he is not a creature.
The Arians in the fourth century called Jesus a ktsima, a creature, and the holy Fathers in the Council of Nicaea said, “Oh, no. He is begotten, not created. He is Light from Light and true God from true God, and he teaches with the authority of God himself. He is God in human form, the divine Son of the divine Father.”
It’s interesting to note also, when we are thinking about Jesus as Teacher, that the Gospel according to St. Matthew is probably the Gospel, together with John—John does it in a more theological way—but in a way according to what we might call the divine oikonomia, the household plan of God for the salvation of the world, the Gospel where Jesus is really, you might almost say technically, formally, officially, presented as the Teacher sent from God, the final Teacher, the one who teaches with divine authority, it’s the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
In fact, we can say, and I believe that we have to say, that Matthew’s Gospel is the Christian Torah. It is the Christian Law. The word “torah” means “instruction.” And it’s very interesting if you look at Matthew’s Gospel carefully, that it is even divided into five sections, five teaching sections. Now why is that interesting, why is that important? And the answer is: because Moses’ law is given in five books. The first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—these five books are called the “Pentateuch.” They’re called the “Five Books.” “Penta” means “five”; they’re the five books. And they’re the five books in which the law of God is given.
Obviously—I think it’s quite obvious—these laws were originally orally transmitted in different forms and different traditions, and then they were kind of collected and put together in these five books, most likely after the Exile. Now, they’re called the Books of Moses, and they were even sometimes considered to be written by the hand of Moses. In fact, in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus even said, “Moses wrote about me,” not only “spoke about me,” but “wrote about me.”
But we have to remember that in the old days, the writer wasn’t necessarily the one who wielded the quill, who wielded the pen. Those who gave the teaching, the teaching was still that of the one who gave it. So there’s no doubt that the Pentateuch, the Five Books are the books of Moses; we definitely believe and affirm that, but they may have been collected, compiled, put together various oral traditions, various texts. And then when Josiah found that [copy of] Deuteronomy in the Temple later on after the Exile, then you have actually these books being given to us.
One thing is for sure. They’re the inspired word of God. They are the beginning of the Bible. They’re the first five books of the Bible. They are held by the Samaritans, by the way, who rejected the prophets and so on. The Samaritans were considered kind of heretical people; they didn’t accept all the writings. But certainly the Christians, following the Jews—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes and the other majority of the Jews, in fact, all the Jews, because the Samaritans were already separated from the Jews—they held these books as the word of God. And they were the five books of the Law, the five instructions of Torah. “Torah” means “law.”
It’s so interesting that Matthew’s Gospel, as a literary construct, has these give sections of teachings. And so, we’re very tempted to say, “You know, he’s just patterning the Pentateuch. Matthew’s Gospel is showing Jesus as the Teacher, the Teacher who fulfills, and replaces even, Moses, who fulfills and replaces Moses in what he teaches.” And there is a very—how can you say?—purposeful, a very conscious connection of comparison and contrast in Matthew’s Gospel, between Moses and Jesus: Moses as the quintessential teacher of the Jews, the formulator of the Law, the receiver of the Law; and then Jesus as the Messianic Teacher, the final Teacher sent from God, the Teacher par excellence, the Rabbi of all rabbis, the Teacher of all teachers, the one who says, “Call no human being ‘kathēgētēs, teacher, your instructor on this earth.’ One is your teacher, even Christ.” That’s in Matthew’s Gospel.
When we look at the way Matthew is constructed literarily, first of all we should notice that in the infancy narratives, in the beginning of Matthew, Jesus is already somehow compared and contrasted to Moses. The annunciation of Jesus is to Joseph, it’s in Judea, that Jesus is born there in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, he is the governor who comes to govern his people, and in the infancy story as it’s given in Matthew, it’s important to note how, when he’s born, Joseph and Mary go off into Egypt, and then they have to come back from Egypt.
And one of the reasons why it seems that that is so is because out of Egypt he calls his son, and he also called Moses out of Egypt, and the people were led out of Egypt, and he was brought forth from Egypt. And then, of course, Jesus, when he is baptized, he’s baptized in Jordan, which Moses was not able to cross, that Joshua, who has the name “Jesus,” he was the one who crossed it. So there is a real sense in Matthew’s Gospel where you have this conscious connection of Jesus with Judah, with Moses, with the Law, right from the very beginning.
But then you have it really specifically, when Jesus begins to teach, because he begins to teach, and it says in Matthew’s Gospel, “He began to preach,” he began to teach. Sometimes you have the word “to preach, to announce, to herald,” and then you have the verb simply “to teach.” Teaching and preaching are almost synonymous. You have him calling the brothers in Matthew: Andrew, Peter. You have him calling James and John. And then it says he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every infirmity of the people. These three things always go together: the teaching, the preaching, and the healing.
And then it says his fame spread [through] all of Syria and all Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan, that they all began to hear about him. And then, in the fifth chapter, you have what might even be called the Christian version of the commandments, the same way that the Ten Commandments are the central part of the Mosaic law, so you can say that the Sermon on the Mount is the central torah or central instruction of the New Moses who is Jesus Christ himself, the last and final Teacher sent by God.
So you have in the fifth chapter Jesus going up onto the mountain, and he sits down, and it says “with his disciples”; his disciples, his students came to him. Notice that it’s a teacher-disciple relationship on that mountain. And the mountain, of course, again evokes the memory of Moses: Moses goes up on the mountain; he receives the Law; he comes down from the mountain. Now Jesus goes up on the mountain, and he sits down. It’s very important that he sits down, because a teacher in those days taught his disciples sitting. The teacher sat; the disciples stood and listened.
And by the way, that’s the way it was in early Christianity, in ancient Christianity. For example, St. John Chrysostom: he taught sitting down. He sat on his throne, his seat, and he taught ex cathedra, from the kathedra, from the seat. That term, “cathedral,” for the bishop, it means the place where the teaching takes place. So the teacher is sitting, and the disciples are standing and listening. It’s very interesting, because today—maybe this is even symbolic—just the opposite takes place: the preacher or teacher is standing, and it’s the students who are sitting. In the old days, the teacher was sitting, and the students were standing. But maybe even on the mount, they sat down to listen to him.
So it says, “When he sat down, his disciples came to him and he opened his mouth and he taught them.” A wonderful expression: “he opened his mouth and he taught them, saying…” And then he begins with the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who hunger and thirst; blessed are the merciful; blessed are the pure; blessed are the peacemakers. And then he launches into what we all know as the Sermon on the Mount.
And that’s the heart of Jesus’ teaching as Rabbi, and it goes on: the fifth chapter, the sixth chapter, the seventh chapter, and then the final verse of the seventh chapter says this: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching.” We already mentioned how they’re always astonished. What he says is astonishing. They can’t believe what he’s saying. “No man ever spoke as this man! Where did he get this teaching?”
In fact, in St. Luke’s Gospel, he’ll already be in the Temple among the teachers when he’s twelve years old, and they’re astonished at his learning; they’re astonished at what that twelve-year-old boy knows. Well now he’s a thirty-year-old man, and he’s announcing the kingdom of God, and he is teaching, as one having authority, astonishing things.
So it says, “When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority and not as their scribes.” And that ends the first book, so to speak, of Matthew. That’s the ending of the first set of teachings.
Then he comes down from the mountain. Crowds follow him. Now these are no longer his disciples; they’re not yet his disciples. The crowds follow him, and he goes around, teaching. And he even goes around calling more disciples. For example, he calls Matthew, the tax collector, tells him to follow him. So he’s going around teaching and he’s doing the miracles, he’s doing the signs of the Messiah, the Messianic signs, primarily healing every form of epilepsy, lunacy, paralysis, all diseases, blindness, dumbness, lameness, everything of the people, and at that same time he is [accomplishing] his miracles, his miraculous wonders, his healings, with his teaching.
And then in Matthew he also calls the twelve disciples. They’re called here twelve disciples, the twelve students, and he sends them, making them apostles, giving them authority also over unclean spirits, to cast them out. And then the twelve of them are named, and he charges them to go out and to teach and to announce and to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And he even tells them that it’s not going to be they who are speaking and teaching; it’s going to be the Spirit of their Father, the Spirit of God, who is going to speak through them. He even tells them not to think ahead of time what they’re going to say.
I love the expression in Luke when it says, “When you’re delivered up and you’re going to speak, I will give you stoma kai sophian,” it says in Greek: “I’ll give you the mouth and I’ll give you the wisdom.” So he opens up his mouth and then he gives the mouth to his disciples. He is the wisdom of God incarnate; he teaches the wisdom and truth of God, and he gives that wisdom and truth, those very words to his disciples.
And in St. John’s Gospel he will even say, “The words that I have given to them”—in the 17th chapter, he will insist that he gave them the words that the Father gave to him so that they would announce those very words. And then, by the time that you get to the beginning of the eleventh chapter of Matthew, you have this written: “And when Jesus had finished instructing (again, teaching, instructing, torah; the word “torah,” the Hebrew word means “instruction”) his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and to preach in their cities.”
So first you have the Sermon on the Mountain, which is kind of a catalogue teaching. It’s Jesus interpreting. “It was said of old, I say to you; it was said of old, I say to you; it was said of old, I say to you.” And he interprets the Scripture, and he actually fulfills that Scripture in his own behavior. He teaches it and he does it. And in the Sermon on the Mount, he will even say, “Blessed are they who do and teach these things.” You do them first, and then you teach them.
But now, what do we have here? The second set of instructions, it says, was to his twelve disciples. So that’s the second book, in Matthew, when Jesus had finished his twelve disciples. He went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. So he has the Sermon on the Mountain, then he teaches the twelve disciples. You see? And to teach and to preach; didaskein kai kērysein, to preach and to teach in their cities.
Then you have the third section of instruction in St. Matthew’s Gospel, where he goes about teaching. First he teaches about John the Baptist. Then he says that no one knows the Father but the Son, no one knows the Son but the Father. He says, “Come to me, you who labor and are heavy laden.” And so he’s going out, teaching in the cities, and “teaching them,” it says, “all,” teaching them all, healing them all, and giving to them, as it says in Matthew, the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
This is what he says: “When the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ ” Because he speaks in the cities in parables; he teaches in parables. For example, it will say, “Jesus sat beside the sea (again he’s sitting), great crowds gathered about him, so they got into the boat and sat there.” He’s always sitting; the teacher sits. “And the whole crowd stood on the beach.” The hearers stand; again, you see it. “And he told them many things in parables, saying…”
And then the disciples say, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
And he says, “To you has been given to know the mysteries (or the secrets) of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, and they do not understand, to fulfill what was spoken by the Prophet Isaiah.”
And then he says to his own disciples and to the people, “Truly I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, but did not see it; and longed to hear what you hear and did not hear it.” And then he gives all the parables of the kingdom.
A comment on the term “parable”: Many people think that a parable is a story to make things clear, like, in order to make a point, I’ll tell you a story, and then you’ll get the point. Well, that’s not a parable. Forgive me, but that’s not a parable. It’s wrong to say that [it is]; it’s just not right. A parable is a story to mystify the hearer, that those who have a pure heart, who are somehow tuned in, who are on the right wavelength, they will catch the meaning. But to the people whose heart is not right, who are not open to truth, they won’t get the parable; they won’t understand it.
And even sometimes the apostles didn’t get the parable. They had to say to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable!” For example, the parable of the sower: they didn’t get it, and sometimes Jesus gets exasperated because they don’t get it. They’re supposed to get it. And we’re supposed to catch the parables, and we’re supposed to see how the parables apply to us, not just to those in the story, but to us. And that’s why parables are just confusing, frustrating; they’re enigmas to many people. And they would be frustrating, enigmatic, and confusing to those [who], as Jesus says, quoting Isaiah, have eyes, but they don’t want to see; have ears, but they don’t want to hear; they have minds, but they refuse to understand.
But those who have ears to hear—that’s why he always says, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear; those who have eyes, to see; who have a mind, to understand”—then the parable becomes clear. Then the parable sooner or later becomes clear. Sometimes it becomes clear afterwards. Then we say, “Aha! Now we understand what that parable meant! Now we see what he was driving at!”
But the parable is not a kind of a narration or a story to make things clearer. It’s a story to get the point across to those who are ready to hear, and to confuse and to frustrate those who don’t want to hear. It’s almost as if God is “hardening the hearts” and eyes and minds of the people by that very parable. God is doing it so they would not somehow understand, just because their deeds were evil, as it says in St. John’s Gospel.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Clearly, if any man’s will is to do God’s will, he will know that my teaching is not my own.” He says it in so many words in St. John’s Gospel. He says, “How can you believe and believe my teaching when you seek glory from one another and not the glory that comes from God alone?”
So the teacher has to have receptive students. The teacher has to have what Dr. Kesich at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, where I studied, my teacher of New Testament used to call “teachable students”: We need teachable students, students willing to learn, wanting to learn, desiring to learn, hunger-and-thirsting to learn, then they will learn; but those who don’t want to learn, even the Teacher who is sent by God, who teaches with authority, who is God himself in human form, who teaches what he learned from God before the foundation of the world, even this will not convince them.
And in the same way, of course, his works won’t convince them either. Not only his words, but his deeds, his works. If people are not ready to learn and to see, what Jesus says and what Jesus does will not convince them. And this is what we find in the Gospels, because ultimately he’s even killed for what he teaches. They have to get some false witnesses, and they have to make up things, but ultimately, they kill him because of what he taught and because of the way he taught: this man, being a man, makes himself divine, makes himself God.
Now we have come, though, to the last part of the 13th chapter, and then you have again a closing of the third so-called book, the third of the five sections of Matthew. This is what it says in Matthew 13:53-58:
When Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his own country, he taught them in their synagogues and they were astonished (again), and they said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? Are not his brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? Are not all his sisters with us? Where did this man get all this?”
And then it says they took offense at him. Literally it says they were scandalized by him.
But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country in his own house.” And he did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
So what do you have? The first section of teaching is the Sermon on the Mountain. The second section of teaching is Jesus instructing and sending out the twelve disciples. The third section of teaching in the Matthean torah, the Matthew Gospel that is the Christian Pentateuch, is Jesus giving the parables to the crowds. So it says, “When he finished these parables, he went away.”
Now he begins the fourth section of his teaching, and that is when he teaches in their synagogues. He goes to their synagogues. So then you have Matthew’s Gospel continuing with Jesus teaching again, teaching in various places, teaching in various ways, going through the districts of Galilee and Tyre and Sidon, Bethsaida, Chorazin, passing the Sea of Galilee. And in these sections he even says in the Gospels that when the people don’t listen to him and don’t hear him, that it would be better even for Sodom and Gomorrah than for them on the Day of Judgment, because the kingdom of God has come, the final Messianic Teacher has come.
It’s in this part of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus finally asks his disciples who he is. He says, “Who do the people say I am?” They give some answers. They say, “You’re John the Baptist raised from the dead,” because John was killed. They say, “You’re one of the prophets, returned, whoever you are.” Then Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” And in Matthew and Mark, Peter says, “You are the Christ.” In Matthew which we’re looking at now, Simon Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And then you have that central teaching, that he has not taught yet. For the first time, Jesus begins to teach them that he has to be crucified. It says, “And he began to show his disciples that he must go up to Jerusalem, suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Peter rejects this. Jesus calls him Satan. Then Jesus teaches that they are going to have to suffer. They are going to have to take up their crosses. They are going to be afflicted because of him. “Nevertheless,” he says, “some standing there will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” And that means the Transfiguration which takes place immediately and that means the resurrection from the dead at the end of the Gospel.
So here you have Jesus teaching again, another section of teaching. And this is kind of a more ethical and moral teaching: How many times should we forgive? Should we give tribute to Caesar? The leaders are coming, testing him about what he’s teaching. They’re trying to catch him in his words. They’re trying to see what he has to say, to get it from them.
And then you have, in Matthew 19:1-2, again a conclusion: “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee, and he entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan, and large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.” Then he contacts the leaders of the Jewish people. So this fourth section of teaching is in Galilee. It’s in Galilee. The last section, the fifth section of the five section will be in Judea, and it’ll be the clash between Jesus and the leaders of the people.
And here, what we must see, what we must see and come to know, is that that last, final section of teaching is where Jesus begins to question those who question him. And that’s where he begins to speak about the end of the world. That’s where he begins to speak about the ultimate clash. That’s where he speaks about the great commandments of love. And that’s where he asks the question, “When the Christ comes, whose son will he be?” And that’s where he identifies himself with the heavenly Son of Man. He even identifies himself with the Lord: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put the enemies under your feet.’ ” “If David calls the Messiah ‘Lord,’ how is he David’s son?”
Then they get into the Pharisaic teaching, where Jesus says, “Don’t follow the Pharisees who sit on Moses’ seat.” You’ve got Moses again. Practice and do what they tell you, but don’t do what they [do], because they preach and they don’t practice. Then he gives all these terrible, awesome words against the scribes and the Pharisees. He says, “Woe to you, woe to you, woe to you!” eleven times. He calls them serpents, brood of vipers, hypocrites, blind guides. Oh, man, it’s a very, very tough teaching that he gives.
And then finally, finally, when you get to the 26th chapter, you have this sentence, Matthew 26:1: when Jesus had finished all these teachings. “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Pascha (the Passover) is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” So when he finishes all the teachings, then comes the Passion.
And here it’s important to go through those teachings that he gave in his interaction with the leaders of the people in the last section. So please do read them.
So here we have the five sections. The Pentateuch of Matthew, you might call it; the Christian Torah. The first is the Sermon on the Mountain, to his disciples. The second is the teaching of the twelve apostles. The third section is the parabolic teachings to the crowds. The fourth section is when he goes into Galilee and speaks in the cities. And then the final section, when he comes to Judea and encounters the leaders of the people. And because of his teaching, he is put to death.
We have to mention just one more thing here, very quickly, and that is—we already mentioned it, but we’ll say it again—Jesus as the Teacher, the final Teacher, the Rabbi, the Master, we’ll see also that he is the Prophet, that his teaching is prophetic. We’ll talk about this next time: Jesus as the Prophet, or the prophetic teacher, what that means very particularly in the Scripture.
But what we want to see now is that Jesus’ disciples become teachers, that the twelve apostles become teachers. In Matthew’s Gospel, at the end—because you still have this instruction—Jesus says,
All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, ye, therefore, and make disciples (make students, pupils) of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.
That’s the end of Matthew’s Gospel. So the very end of Matthew’s Gospel is what is often called, especially among Protestants, the Great Commission: You go there for now. You teach. You become teachers of all the nations. So here, certainly the apostles were sent to teach. And we see that the Christian Church was a church that included teaching.
On the very first sermon on Pentecost, where Peter gives it in the Book of Acts, when the people believe, it’s the first thing that is said about the believers is “they continued steadfastly in hē didachē tōn apostolōn,” the teaching, the didachē, the didachē of the didaskalos, the didaskalia. That means “teaching”: “They continued steadfastly in the teaching of the apostles.” The apostles are teaching the teaching of Christ. As the Father sent Christ, so Christ sends the apostles to teach. They are teachers.
And here, you know, St. Paul is saying it all the time. He says to Timothy, “Teach what befits sound doctrine. Teach healthy doctrine.” Healthy didachē, healthy teaching. So the apostles are teachers. All the Christians in some sense have to be teachers, teachers of God. But we must note, and we’ll conclude with this, is that in the earliest Church, as witnessed to in the New Testament, there are always in the Christian community some who are teachers; not all who are teachers. Some have a particular charisma, or a gift of the Holy Spirit, to be a teacher. It says it in Romans; it says it in I Corinthians; it says it in Ephesians: “Some teachers, some prophets, some healers, some administrators, some pastors,” but “some teachers.”
So there are those, in the Church, until this day, who have the particular charism of being a teacher. For example, in our Orthodox Church, the holy Fathers are called teachers. They are primarily teachers, many of them. They teach the doctrine, the theologia, the theology of the Church, the ta dogmata, the dogmas, the didachē, the doctrine. They’re teachers. The bishops are teachers. They are consecrated at the Liturgy with the Holy Gospel over their head, and in the olden days, the bishops always had to appear in public, in the ancient Church, carrying the Gospel book. That’s why on all the icons of the bishops, you see them carrying a Gospel, because their task was to teach the Gospel: teach and preach.
It says in the Timothy letter about the elders, the presbyters, that they are worthy of special honor, especially those who persevere in teaching and in preaching. In the Letter of James, it even says, “Let few of you be teachers, brethren, because those who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” I’m always aware of that when I’m speaking on the radio, and in the old days when I was a professor, a kathēgētēs, at a theological seminary—oh, every day I would remind myself that James says, in his letter,
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness, for we all make many mistakes, and if anyone make no mistake in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.
So I’m teaching here on the radio, and I’m going to be judged with greater strictness, and I’ll probably make some mistakes, too, but I would ask your prayers because, as it says in Scripture, “we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.” But there are some who are called to teach. Not everybody is called to teach, but everybody is called to learn. And before you can become a didaskalos, before you can become a teacher, you have to be a disciple; you have to be a learner. You have to be a catechumen, one who listens to the catechesis of the one who sits on the kathedra, on the throne, who teaches in the name of the Lord.
We believe as Christians that in the Christian Church, Christ remains our teacher. He teaches from heaven; he teaches from the throne on high. He teaches through the bishops; he teaches through the charismatic teachers and holy Fathers and saints of the Church. The teaching of God remains with us by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, who guides us into all the truth, and brings to [remembrance] everything that Christ himself has done.
It says in St. John’s Gospel that the Holy Spirit “takes what is his and gives it to us.” The way Jesus put it: “He will take what is mine and give it to you.” And “what is mine” are those words. And so Jesus even prays for those who continue in his words and who have the words that he, the incarnate Word, as the Rabbi sent from God, teaches them.
So in the Holy Scripture, the very first title of Jesus as Messiah is “Rabbi,” is “Teacher.” He begins as a teacher: he gathers disciples; he teaches everyone. He teaches his disciples; he teaches his twelve apostles; he teaches the crowds. He teaches in Galilee; he teaches in Judea. That’s what we see in Matthew.
And he is the Teacher, the quintessential Teacher. And so our final word for today has to be the word of Jesus when he said, “Call no man ‘Teacher’ upon the earth, for one is your Teacher, even the Christ.”