Scripture: Mark 5, 7-8; Luke 5
Leading Question: Did Jesus as “Master Teacher” always follow the rules?
In this lesson we want to look at the some of the creative, even unorthodox, methods used by Jesus, the “Master Teacher.” But before we look at examples from the Gospels, we should look at a remarkable “education” quote from Adventism’s charismatic founder, Ellen White:
God never designed that one human mind should be under the complete control of another. And those who make efforts to have the individuality of their pupils merged in themselves, and to be mind, will, and conscience for them, assume fearful responsibilities. These scholars may, upon certain occasions, appear like well-drilled soldiers. But when the restraint is removed, there will be seen a want of independent action from firm principle existing in them. Those who make it their object to so educate their pupils that they may see and feel that the power lies in themselves to make men and women of firm principle, qualified for any position in life, are the most useful and permanently successful teachers. Their work may not show to the very best advantage to careless observers, and their labors may not be valued as highly as are those of the teacher who holds the minds and wills of his scholars by absolute authority; but the future lives of the pupils will show the fruits of the better plan of education. (1872: 3T 133)
What we discover in the Gospels is that Jesus was a Master Teacher who specialized in creative and unorthodox methods. We could even call him “The Teacher of Unexpected Surprises.” Let’s explore what that means in the light of some intriguing examples from the Gospels. And we have to realize that this particular topic offers huge possibilities:
Four crucial questions:
- What he said
- People are more important than specific laws, even God-given laws
- Equality of ethnic groups (Jew/Gentile), Equality of the sexes (male/female) equality in economic status (slave/free)
- How he said it: Statements, commands, stories
- What he did (modeling)
- How he did it: Quietly vs. publicly
Three crucial choices:
- Challenge the prevailing culture
- Affirm the good things in the culture, that which is enduring
- Tightening the commitment to law, while loosing the grip of specific laws.
Let’s look at some examples:
1. He touched me: the healed leper. In our day, touching a leper may not be good hygiene, but in Jesus’ day, the prohibition was much more serious.
Luke 5:12-13 (NRSV): Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13 Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him.
In short, Jesus was unafraid of contamination. In broad daylight, he healed the leper. He could, of course, have healed him from a distance. He could have just spoken a word. But Jesus touched him. The memory of that touch may have been more powerful than the healing itself.
2. Healing a wild and possessed foreigner. One day Jesus took his disciples into unclean territory. The “Decapolis” (“The Ten Cities”) was a district on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. This was not Jewish country. Jesus went there to heal a demon-possessed wild man. When he sent the demons into a herd of swine, the people of the area were alarmed and begged Jesus to leave them. The healed man wanted to go with Jesus, but Jesus said no:
Mark 5:18-20 (NRSV): 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 But Jesus refused, and said to him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.
Jesus will return to Decapolis and we will glimpse the effect of the healed man’s witness. But first Jesus visits another foreign territory, Tyre and Sidon. The story is recorded in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30.
Blending the two accounts together yields this story: Jesus went to Tyre for rest and renewal, but didn’t tell anyone. Somehow, a Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter discovered him – but she had to overcome no less than five hurdles before she received her heart’s desire. Normally we think of gentle Jesus, eager to help. But here the five hurdles make him seem so distant: Overcoming secrecy was the first; second, Jesus wouldn’t say a word to her. A third hurdle was overcoming the disciples’ hostility. “Send her away,” they urged Jesus. A fourth hurdle was Jesus’ seemingly cool attitude: “I am only sent to the lost sheep of Israel,” he said. The final hurdle was Jesus’ off-putting statement about not giving the children’s food to the dogs. “But even the dogs get the crumbs from the master’s table,” this foreign woman urged.
With that, Jesus threw open the windows of heaven: “O woman, great is your faith,” he said. And her daughter was healed.
What a teaching moment for Jesus as he nudged his male disciples toward a more receptive attitude toward foreigners and women! He started out so brusque and distance. But in the end, his intention became clear.
Coming back from the territory of Tyre and Sidon and his remarkable treatment of the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus took a detour to the Decapolis region, the very place where Jesus had commanded the healed demoniac to go back and tell what Jesus had done for him.
Mark 8:1-10 tells how a great crowd gathered to hear Jesus, some 4000 men plus women and children. As told in Mark 6:32-34, Jesus had already fed more than 5000 Jewish men; here he feeds more than 4000 Greeks who came from the Decapolis, the fruit of the man’s witness.
The man had desperately wanted to go with Jesus. But Jesus refused his request, sending him back to be a witness. It worked. The people responded by the thousands.
On balance, as we ponder the wide variety ways that Jesus worked with people, it nearly defies description. He could be gentle, he could be firm, almost to the point of rudeness. As I was preparing for this broadcast, I tracked down this little sign that I saw near the trail on top of Mt. Howard in the Wallowa blues. Originally coming from a cable car entry in the little village of Chateau d’Oex in Switzerland, it carried the same message in three languages:
In English it said: “Please do not pick the flowers.” In German it said: “It is forbidden to pick the flowers.” In French it said: “Those who love the mountains leave them their flowers.”
My first impulse was to put the German version at the bottom of a preferred list. But then I realized that a German would not see it that way at all! Similarly, in the methods and message of Jesus, he could be both tough and gentle, illustrating a truth that the Apostle Paul put into words: “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22, NRSV).
We could look at a host of other examples, all illustrating different aspects of Jesus’ ministry. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), the good Samaritan on the road who stopped to help a man who had been robbed (Luke 10), the stories of the lost coin, lost sheep and the lost boy in Luke 15. In short, Jesus knew how to be effective.