Teaching is Godlike
Fr. Ed Benioff - Added on Thursday, July 24, 2014

Teaching, like parenting, is an impossible task. Schooling is compulsory in many countries, but education must be a choice — and most students, at least some of the time, choose against it. Kids have to go to school, but we can’t make them learn; and some of them will actively resist the efforts of even the best teachers. That makes education harder for everyone else, but especially for the teacher.


Education is an impossible task. In fact, it’s a divine task — a job that properly belongs to God, but which he shares with people he has specially called and chosen.


Teachers are doing the work of God. In the Old Testament God shows himself to be a teacher. That’s how the Prophet Isaiah saw him (Isaiah 30:20). That’s how he appears in the Book of Job (36:22).


In the New Testament we learn from Jesus himself that God is the only true teacher (Matthew 23:8), and we are all his students — whether our desk is at the front of the classroom or somewhere in the middle.


If education seems impossible for mere humans, maybe that’s because it is! Only God can pull it off.


Yet we see that “teacher” was considered a holy office in the early Church. It was considered a special vocation, a calling from God. All through the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of the New Testament, we see that God called forth teachers for the Church, and they were esteemed like bishops and prophets (see, for example, Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11).


That doesn’t mean they found their job easy. Many of them, like many of the early bishops and prophets, were unappreciated, rejected, scorned, and surely underpaid for their trouble. Many, in fact, were put to death. In every way, they were like Jesus.


The tasks of a teacher may seem impossible; but nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). If God calls us to do something, he gives us the power we need to respond faithfully. The Christian tradition calls this the “grace of state.” When we are given a particular status in the Church, we are also given the divine help to handle the difficulties that come with it.


Again, that doesn’t mean the life of a teacher will ever be easy. In fact, we can be sure it won’t. Jesus never found the job easy, and he had full command of all the grace of heaven.


If the vocation is difficult, it’s because the stakes are so high. In that way, teaching is rather exactly like parenting — and those teachers of the early Church counted their students as their own offspring. “Do you have children?” the magistrate asked Saint Papylas at his trial. “Many indeed!” replied Papylas. And then someone in the crowd pointed out that Papylas was talking about his students, who were his “spiritual children.”


Teachers affect eternity, said Henry Adams. They can never tell where their influence stops.


They can never tell.


Indeed, only God knows how the influence of a faithful teacher will play out over the course of a student’s lifetime, or even into future generations. And the influence flows not just from the material in the lesson plans, but also from casual remarks, from a spontaneous smile, or from the simple knowledge that someone is listening.


In all these things, teachers work in a divine way, and they reflect the life of God who has called them and empowered them.


Think about the teachers who have most influenced you. Take a moment today to pray for them, even if they’ve passed away. If they’re still living, maybe you can take another moment to write them a note of appreciation.

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