“A disciple is not above the teacher…”
It came to mind today as I was reading tender Father’s Day tributes on Facebook. It was as I was scrolling through the photographs that one had me standing still in memory. Perhaps it was no coincidence that I had remembered him out loud already once before today as I stood with his widow at our Synod Assembly.
And I am remembering now what seems to me was the last time I saw him.
I had pulled into the drive at their old farm house. I could see Larry standing at the kitchen door — his hair now gone from his battle with cancer. Head down, my heart caught in my throat as I made my way to the back steps.
We stood in the kitchen and visited a while. When I left, he said to me. “You know, I’m not afraid. George taught me how to do this.” He was speaking then of our precious friend whose dying we had grieved together not so many years before.
It was a Saturday in August too many years ago now when he and I met up and traveled together to see George to plan his funeral. I can’t recall now if we knew that would happen then. We only knew time was growing short and one more visit wouldn’t wait. We talked about music that day and scripture, about who would sit at the organ bench and who would fill the pulpit. George knew what he wanted. Near the end of our visit he exclaimed, ‘Oh, how I wish I could be there!’ With tears standing in his eyes, Larry replied, ‘Oh, but you will be!’
Not all dying is done with such gratitude and grace. It can, and often does, get messy along the way. Even so, I find I look to these who have taught me. And I expect that however it is, however it will be for me, it will only be sketchy approximations of their examples. And yet I keep striving, we keep striving, don’t we?
Jesus says today that the disciple is not above the teacher… that it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher. Indeed, as we seek to learn from him, following him, we can expect the same fate to be ours. That you and need not go seeking our ‘deaths,’ for they will surely come: both large and small, as we emulate his example. We only need to look to Jesus to know what to expect. We can look to Jesus, too, to see how it is to be done.
There is a great deal that is frightening in the words before us now. None of it sounds pleasant. Much of it promises to be painful. In spite of Jesus’ urging not to be afraid, I confess that often I am. If I’m honest, I have to say I wish it didn’t have to be the way it is described today. And yet I know there is no choice. Not in the world we are called to live and die in where so many powerful forces work against good and healing and hope. These are hard words before us now. And yet, this much I do know. There are powerful words of promise interlaced with the rest. For we are reminded that God loves common sparrows, so mustn’t he love us all the more? And that we are so loved that even the hairs of our heads are all counted. And yet, for me, the most powerful words of grace and comfort come at the start where we hear that we do have a teacher, a master, whose fate not only serves as warning for all of us who follow him — but, inherent in the image itself — the certain promise is that as our teacher and master, Jesus also goes before us to show us the way. In ways so much more profound than even those I look to in this life to teach me, we follow One who already did this. As we are told today, it is only in this way, that we who somehow lose our lives “for Jesus’ sake will find it.”
Too many years ago now, in far too close succession, I stood by as witness to see Larry and George embrace an unknown future in their dying. I still carry their examples deep within me. I remember how they expressed their gratitude in the face of their own grief and fear. And I remember the peace that held them then. We are blessed to have such companions on our journey. And yet, even as one ‘taught the other’ how it was to be done, they both had their eyes and hearts fixed on another Teacher, whose example we are all privileged to carry deep within us. I pray this will also be so for me one day in my actual dying. May it also be so today as I seek to live. Indeed, may I say over and over again in my dying and my living, “You know, I’m not afraid. Jesus taught me how to do this.”
- How do you hear Matthew’s words for us today? Do the promises outweigh the suffering that seems inevitable? Why or why not?
- Who are your companions along the way who serve as examples for you? What have they taught you?
- What are the stories of how Jesus did this which are particularly meaningful for you now? Have there been different examples at different times in your life? What have they been?