He [Jesus] was tempted in all points as we are, yet never sinned.
I have this theory, simple and not too profound, that Jesus got angry with His students—and He didn’t sin. Jesus was the ultimate teacher. Kind, profound, miraculous: these are things He’s known for. But He also got angry—and it made an impact.
Teachers get angry all the time. It’s actually a tool of the trade. I remember a gym teacher, Mr. Lane, who would drop a folding chair on the gym floor from his height of six feet and yell at us. It was terrifying and it made the point. I remember another teacher, Mrs. Black, who threw books at us. I’ve worked with directors who called their cast and crew stupid when they were trying to make a point. These things are their legacies in my memory. They were effective strategies if the goal is to just get the class quiet.
But then there are the teachers who are quiet and firm. Mrs. Sawyer’s eyes flashed fire the day she caught one of my classmates cheating on a test. Her voice raised only ever so slightly, but we all shrank in our seats. That gentle teacher had been disappointed and Heaven forbid that anger be directed at us; I would have died had she been disappointed in me. It was all the more poignant because we never saw it happen. I remember her today as someone who had an eye for the future. She didn’t just demand a quiet class; she wanted to teach us to be great human beings. She was preparing us for our future, not just her immediate present of a controlled class.
Jesus taught like that. There was a time when He was so angry that He kicked His students out of class, if you will. He visited the temple, saw abhorrent behavior, and overturned tables holding coinage. It was probably a mess. He told all the people there that greedy men had made God’s house a den of thieves; I doubt He did so quietly and gently. And yet, He did it without sin. It would take a special occasion and much grace for me to do both, but He did. He made His point, loud and clear.
Sometimes, teaching demands the kind of honesty that strips away layers of skin before it applies the healing salve. For instance, Jesus once told Peter, “Get out of my sight, Satan. You treasure the things of earth more than those of God.” That wasn’t just name-calling out frustration. Jesus clearly saw Peter displaying the mind of the devil in his behavior and called him on it. Students seldom enjoy being called out and as a teacher, neither do I enjoy doing it. I’ve had to learn how to speak with that kind of bald honesty over the years. It doesn’t come easily to me. But I think you can say the same words with different purposes. I can either scream at a student, satisfy my desire to “give them what they deserve”, and take care of the present problem, or I can say the same words firmly, calmly, and even loudly with love and an eye for the future. Jesus also praised those who got it right. In front of a whole crowd of faith-taught Jewish listeners, Jesus told a hated Roman centurion that his behavior had proved that he had more faith than anyone in Israel. There is great value in praising those who get it right.
Sometimes the difference between those two is obvious; sometimes, it’s only in the confines of my heart where God alone can see it. Jesus was—and is—the ultimate teacher. He knew best how to communicate and knew His students (or disciples) better than anyone else. He knew them better than they themselves. A teacher frequently CAN see things no one else can see; not in the way Jesus could, certainly. But it is an ability that comes from much observation. But Jesus had to listen to his students arguing about who was going to be greatest in Heaven. Even after LIVING with the perfect teacher, eating with Him, seeing miracles and essentially having private lessons, His students still didn’t understand. They needed time, just like the rest of us. The Bible tells us that Jesus wept over Israel; I suspect He wept over His students, too. They must have known it. Their relationship was too close not to.
Most of my students will never know how much I love them; I may not like them so much some days, but I do love them. I have to be tough; I demand a lot from them. How much joy would there be if we could all agree that I could teach, and they would apply themselves? I suspect that Jesus often reflected on this lost opportunity for joy…yet He did even that without sin. It grieved Him deeply, but never to sinful despair. Of all people, the Son of Man never forgot the end of the story.
This is what I have to remember when the simplest instruction is met with peculiar volatility. Saying “hello” to some of the people I serve is often met with anger, an eye roll, or a snarl. Most days, that doesn’t bother me. But I won’t kid you; sometimes it seems futile. Sometimes…well, sometimes, Titus seems impossible.
To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers,
but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.
And let us also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses,
that they be not unfruitful.
This year in the classroom, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But this conversation has been in the forefront of my mind. For ten years I’ve been thinking on it. I’ve had conversations with fellow Christian teachers who fall on different sides of the problem. Some wonder, like me, if it wouldn’t be better to hang it all up and start screaming. Start being brutally honest without a filter. What are calm and firm achieving anyway? I’ve received advice from veteran teachers, whom I deeply respect, to be sarcastic; be a witch. Goodness, I need barely try. It comes too easily. Perhaps my best reason to go the longer, slower route is because the first just comes too easily. It’s my first nature. But if I rely on the Spirit to guide me, He closes my mouth. He inserts gentleness; sometimes I’ve been amazed. Sometimes, I lie in bed at night and just…read Titus. I have to answer to God for my teaching, someday. Indeed, I have to answer to Him for every word that I say. He said so. So…I seek to raise my voice with gentleness. I seek to mete out discipline with firm love. At least, that’s the goal. It’s pretty high up there.
Teaching comes down to a job between Jesus and me. It always was and it always will be. It’s about demanding high-level behavior and academia from my students. It’s about my conscience before God. It doesn’t actually matter if I like the job or not. It doesn’t matter if my students like it. I can’t teach them about my Jesus; I teach the subject at hand. But I can do so, with God’s help, in a manner which exemplifies the Greatest Teacher the world has ever seen.
In all things showing a pattern of good works…sound speech,
that cannot be condemned;
that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed,
having no evil thing to say of you.