In his letter to the Corinthians, and true to his ecclesiological metaphor of the early communities which comprised the primeval Church, as the “Body of Christ,” Paul calls for a unity amidst the diversity of gifts that Christ gives to us for our individual responsibilities as servants building together the kingdom of justice and peace.
He then mentions perhaps in no particular order, that some would function “as apostles, or as prophets, or as teachers ….” Though not elaborating what these roles entail, the underlying ethos of the people of God is that of a mutual responsibility founded on love: Each and every person is drawn by the interior conscience impelled by supernatural charity to serve the other according to his or her gifts.
Today’s readings are meant to present to us a deeper perspective into what constitutes the teaching diakonia of a servant of the kingdom of God. What is a teacher, and what do these Scriptures tell us about this special ministry?
The word is translated from the ancient Greek word “didáskalos” ( διδάσκαλος ) which simply means “teacher.” In previous essays, we have already discussed the service of apostles and prophets: If an apostle is a person “who has been sent off” to convey or proclaim a philosophical or religious message; and if a prophet is a person who is in contact with, can convey messages from, and can represent a divine being to a multitude of people; then a teacher in relation to these messages, is tasked with “clarifying and interpreting the meaning, so that everyone might understand what they were hearing.”
Like all the other Church roles mentioned by Paul, the “title” signifies only the tasks the person must accomplish given one’s gifts, not a declaration of a social position one has attained or “has been given by God” over another. Indeed, because the teacher is fully accountable for anything and everything he or she utters in the Father’s name, this specific function is far from self-serving: it cannot and should not be dragged into the support of or subjection under strange human ideologies.
As in Ezra’s case, a teacher’s elaboration of God’s precepts – which the Psalm affirms “are right, … give joy to the heart, … are clear [and] … enlighten the eyes” – must fortify and not weaken his people, for “the joy of God is our strength.” A teacher’s day of service to his Word must be a day “dedicated to God”, which must not evoke sadness, anxiety or despair; rather it must be a solemn yet celebratory event declaring for and by the Spirit “good news to the poor; … liberty to captives; and new sight to the blind” as well as “… freeing the oppressed; and … announcing the Lord’s year of mercy.”
Thus, a teacher’s role through careful instruction, is to mirror the faithfulness and wisdom of our loving Abba through words that give life and not death, consequently promoting the sharing of this life in justice, and thereby, the sustainability of social peace.
Therefore, teachers are forewarned of proffering theological interpretations that constrain or compel people to become “less human;” or that perpetuate an unfortunate miscomprehension of God’s pure and immaculate commandments which will cause doubt, wrath or hatred towards oneself or towards others, which in turn may be projected onto God himself.
These explications should instead bring out in every person the finest in each one’s humanity, inspiring the practice of the holy virtues – thinking, speaking and acting for one another in obedience to God – not in fear of being reprimanded or punished by, but in fear of displeasing the One loved, who is “my rock and my redeemer.”
Hence, apostles are primarily responsible for laying the foundations of communities of the people of God; prophets are essentially assigned to keep and check these same communities in the single direction that leads to him; while teachers are those who patiently labor, day after day among the communities, giving instructions and guidance for all to contribute to the gradual building-up of his kingdom in their midst. Teachers are the agents and models of a more genuine human existence “coming true, even as you listen.”
May our Master the Christ help and bless us to become exemplary teachers!
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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