|Christine Trinter, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Institute for Educational Initiatives
(Notre Dame Center for STEM Education, ACE Teaching Fellows)
Today marks the first day of Catholic Schools Week, which is a time dedicated to celebrating the treasure of Catholic education in our nation. What better way to kick off this celebration than with a gospel reading illustrating Jesus as “Teacher,” a descriptor used for Jesus so often in the New Testament that it is second only to “Lord”?
As someone who has been an educator for over two decades, I found myself initially disturbed by some of the language in this teaching scene, particularly in the context of Jesus as Teacher. Mark’s words to describe the scene are so emotionally charged – astonished, unclean spirit, destroy, rebuke, convulsed, loud cry, command, obey. And Mark begins and ends the passage by repeating the phrase “teaching with authority.” What does it mean to teach with authority, and why does this phrase make me feel uneasy? I have always associated teaching (and Jesus!) with positive and joyful emotions.
In reflecting on the way “authority” bookends Jesus’ interaction with the possessed man, and the strident word choice used to describe this encounter, I discerned a message of truth and compassion. Jesus is the truth of God’s love and hence, teaches with authority. Through Jesus’ fierce compassion, he seeks his truth in each of us. Mark chooses such jarring words to convey the sheer intensity of Jesus’ unconditional love for all of us. The strength of Jesus’ compassion for our brokenness cannot be overemphasized and, hence, demands examples that startle and grab hold of our hearts. So, while the reading is impassioned, as with everything in Christ, it concludes with the grace and comfort of knowing the depth of our teacher’s love for us.
This gospel reading reminds me of the selfless, intensely compassionate, and grace-filled commitment of our nation’s Catholic school teachers. Let us all find a way to show them our gratitude for exemplifying Jesus as Teacher during this Catholic Schools Week!