The best teachers are always the ones who demonstrate what they teach. My thought was if I wanted my students to be giving and helpful Christians, then I should demonstrate that for them by picking up a paintbrush too. The best teachers are also people who demand excellence and commitment from their students. In its day the movie To Sir with Love embodied this kind of teacher-student relationship. The inexperienced Mr.Thackeray abandons a traditional teaching style after a confrontation with the raucous and undisciplined class he is assigned to teach. Instead of textbooks, his lessons will now be based on life and from that point on he demands and expects his students to be the grown-ups they will be once they graduate. The road to adulthood is a rocky road and some of his students seem destined to never grow-up but he never loosens his expectations or demands and it pays off.
Jesus was that kind of teacher. He expected complete and total dedication from his “talmidim”, disciples, that demanded the highest level of commitment from them. Matthew takes note of two “talmidim" in Matthew 8:19-22 who initially express that kind of commitment, but eventually fall short of actually “going all-in” as we like to say. The first is notable in that he is described as a “scribe” (teacher of the law). In previous chapters of Matthew the scribes, like the pharisees, have not ranked high in Matthew’s opinion, so you would expect this person to also be an object of dissatisfaction, and he proves to fall short as all the others before him did.
He addresses Jesus as Teacher (didaskale)- a title given to Christ in Matthew only by those who do not fully believe in Him (cf. 12:38; 19:16; 22:16, 24. 36). The scribe professes that he would like to fully commit to following Jesus, but Jesus realizes he does not really know what that means. Jesus responds to his statement by explaining that following Him would mean a life even more austere than the lives of birds and foxes. So, the unrecorded question put to the scribe is, “Are you willing to live like this?”
Matthew describes a second follower as “another disciple”. The “official 12” won’t be introduced to us until 10:1-4 so at this stage the term “disciple” must be taken more loosely as anyone who follows along with Jesus and shows some kind of interest in Him. He is in strong contrast to the previous disciple- the first, was overly eager; the second is quite lackluster! In fact, he begins by telling Jesus what he must do first, before he follows Him! His statement “Bury my father” implies at the very least that the man wishes to postpone discipleship until some sort of funeral takes place. Some commentators say right away; others look at the grammar and say this phrase is an idiom which means the man’s father hasn’t died yet and he’d like to remain with the family until that happens. One can’t tell either way- but the point is this- the man’s actual priorities lay elsewhere and not with Jesus. Jesus’ reply to this would-be disciple could be taken as bitingly sarcastic if He is taken literally. “Let the spiritually dead take care of the physically dead,” Jesus tells the man, “Are you really willing to put all that aside and follow Me?”
Matthew does not record how either of these men reacted to Jesus’ response to their desire to follow Him. Some have idealistically assumed they responded in faith, but without specifying any positive action, Matthew seems to imply that they refused Jesus’ terms. It’s popular to call Jesus a “Good Teacher” these days. But we tend to define that role as someone who merely imparts knowledge (as in a list of facts or mottos to live by). Jesus the Master Teacher is not interested in you knowing a fact or two. He is not interested in mottos. He is interested in your level of commitment. He demands to be first and foremost in every area of your life. Are you willing to do that? Your response will determine what kind of “talmid” you truly are.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
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