Apologetics, Reflection, Theology

Learning From the Master

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Do you think Jesus knows anything about the life you actually lead? Or do his teachings seem nice and beautiful, but distant and unrealistic when it comes to your daily existence?

In other words is Jesus a really nice guy, but a bit naive when it comes down to it?

You can only learn from someone as long as you think they know more than you do. As soon as you think you know better you immediately stop listening. Have you ever gotten to the stage with someone who was training you where you realised, “I actually know more than this person,” or, “I’m actually smarter than this person”? Whether it’s true or not, rather than learning, you begin to patronise them and, if not simply annoyed at the waste of your time, pity their ignorance as well.

The teachings of Jesus are universally acknowledged to be among history’s highest moral ideals. But are they only that: ideals? Unattainable perfectionisms? Pretty words which hold little to no value in the tough reality of life?

Turn the other cheek? Love your enemies? Forgive the same person 490 times at minimum? Doesn’t he know the world out here? That kind of weak, pushover mentality will get you no where.

Now, maybe you’ve never thought that. But this is only one way to disconnect Jesus’ words from having actual, real-life significance. Christians don’t tend to be that flippant. But there are plenty more ways to effectively invalidate the Master’s words.

For instance, maybe you believe his teachings are good, but that they are simply impossible to carry out. Isn’t this proven by experience? I mean, have you ever seriously tried, even for a single day, to live out his principles? And so we come to the conclusion that we are not able to obey, or at most that we can only obey in some vague, spiritual manner. We think we have tried and it hasn’t worked.

But have we tried it the correct way? What if Chesterton is right, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but rather it has been found difficult and left untried. What if we are completely misunderstanding the nature of Jesus’ teachings and how we are supposed to go about obeying them?

Imagine Jesus’ words were not simply commands to obey in the moment of the situation, but descriptions of a certain kind of life, a kind of character in which turning the other cheek, or loving one’s enemies is the most natural response.

Let’s take a real life example. Suppose I commanded you to run a four-minute mile. Suppose you are morally required to do it. So, taking the command seriously you go to the track and you try your absolute best. You give it everything you have. But you don’t make the cut. Not by far. Does that prove that my command was impossible? Or might it suggest your method was slightly off?

The ability to run a four-minute mile does not only come from the direct effort of the athlete in the moment, but from an entire life dedicated to training for that moment. The athlete has engaged in the right practices and lifestyle so that when the moment comes they can actually do what they want to do. In fact, when this kind of lifestyle is pursued at length, it becomes just as unnatural to run in any other way as it once was to run in the right way.

Of course, this analogy is very incomplete. There are many of us who could never run a four-minute mile, no matter how hard we trained. But could we learn to be the kind of people who obey Jesus naturally, simply because that’s the kind of person we are? Should we expect to be able to simply obey him when the moment arises, when our life disciplines have not prepared us for this?

God wants to bring us to the place where we obey him naturally because it’s part of who we are.

This can only come through instilling the character of Jesus in us so that we unthinkingly act in the same way he did. The central question therefore goes from “What Would Jesus Do?” to “What would lead me to being the kind of person Jesus was?”

He really is smart you know.

Think of what it’s like in the teacher’s shoes? Have you ever been in the position of trying to teach someone who thinks they already know everything? They say they know, yet you see what they do and immediately realise how mistaken their self-conception is. You, as the teacher, know in an instant how far the reality is from the imagination or pretension. You know that they need to go through a process of shaping in their skills and character before they will be able to complete the task correctly.

Have you ever seen this happen? It’s embarrassing. Everyone can see. The charade is pointless. It’s paper thin. I wonder if this is how we look much of the time, in our ignorance and pride, to our loving Master.

The only answer is to let go and learn to do the things he did which made him the person he was.

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