Thursday, June 23, 2016

How to avoid the syllabus of errors

Sermon for the fourth Sunday after Trinity

Did you know that the word mathematics actually comes from the Greek word meaning disciple? This is true. The best mathematicians should therefore be the best disciples. Clearly, this means that people with maths degrees are going to Heaven before anyone else.

Of course, that’s not true at all. But Our Lord does pose us a little problem.

If we’ve heard of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, then why haven’t we heard of their physics teachers? If we’ve heard of Nigel Kennedy, why haven’t we heard of his violin teacher?

Is Jesus really right to say “The disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master”? Clearly, it is possible for the one who learns to outstrip his teacher and change the world. You can get the Nobel Prize for literature when your English teacher does not. What’s gone wrong here?


It is clear that Our Lord is not speaking of academic pursuits nor of formal education. Remember, it’s not academic knowledge that gets us into Heaven, it’s getting to know God and following Him that matters. In educational parlance, the Learning Objective of Our Lord’s ministry is to receive Salvation and Reunion with God. We learn to be disciples of God Himself. What does Our Lord teach us while He is with us? What’s on the syllabus?


The syllabus is composed of four parts. They are called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In these, we see that every action recorded by Jesus teaches us something. He may teach us explicitly by teaching us how to pray. He may teach us via parables where we have to listen carefully to Him to understand His meaning. He may teach us by His actions of forgiveness, reconciliation, blessing, and healing.

The trouble is that we all fail to live by this teaching. If we are perfect only then can we be just as sinless as our teacher. The teacher here can only be Our Lord, not a priest, pastor or academic, and we can never be better than Him. Even if a priest, pastor or academic teaches us about what Jesus says, they cannot ever be greater than Our Lord.

This is because every teacher is a disciple too: they aren’t the creators of what to learn. They can only teach what they’ve been taught. The teaching doesn’t begin with them. It can only ever begin with God Himself. It means that we all have to be humble. Not one of us can say that we’ve got everything sussed out; we cannot say that we fully understand another’s position; we cannot be the judge of others if we are no morally better than others. We always have to go back to the Teacher – Our Lord Jesus Christ.

If we see the speck in another’s eye, then we must go back to Our Lord who will teach us mercy, forgiveness, and love by showing us the beam that is in our own eye. If we take that responsibility onto our own shoulders, then we will only fail, and lose more than we did to start with.

Mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and love are lessons worth learning. We need to make sure that we keep going back to school to learn them.

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