No Disciple is Greater Than the Teacher
Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Sir. 27:4-7; Ps. 92; 1 Cor. 15:54-58; Lk. 6:39-45
(Audio recorded live, 27 February 2022)
Some excellent words of wisdom come from our Blessed Lord today, who is referencing the Book of Sirach. I recently revisited the Rite of Priestly Ordination. It is good to be mindful of the work we have been called to do, and during the Rite of Ordination, the bishop speaks these words: “Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross” (Par. 135). The main chapel of my seminary had two side chapels. One dedicated to the Blessed Mother, the other to St. Joseph. Above the entry to the Marian chapel was the Latin phrase, “Agnoscite quod agitis,” “Realize what you are doing,” and above the entry to St. Joseph’s chapel was the phrase, “Imitamini quod tractatis,” “Imitate what you handle.” These echo the words the bishop speaks during the Rite of Ordination: Understand what you do and imitate what you celebrate. These are excellent words of wisdom, and we hear them echoed in our readings today.
The Book of Sirach is a part of Scripture referred to as Wisdom Books. These were written sometime after the Babylonian Exile and are likely a reflection of the influence of Hellenistic philosophical thought on the people of Israel. Sirach says one’s faults appear when they speak. “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.” The analogy of the tree is also used by Jesus, who says, “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.” Just as a properly nourished tree will produce good fruit, so too, will a properly nourished mind produce good speech. That is why Jesus asks, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?”
Jesus emphasizes the importance of sound teaching. He says, “No disciple is superior to the teacher….” A disciple is not one who leads, but one who follows in the footsteps of the teacher. This is a lifelong process of learning, investigating, studying, and literally walking on the way. A disciple is one who walks in the steps of the master. In other words, we, followers of Jesus, we disciples, are called to walk in his own footsteps. He is the teacher, he has shown us the way.
The way is a life of discipline, self-denial, sacrifice, and true love. I say ‘true love’ because true love is the kind of love that is entirely for the sake of the other. In the spiritual life, our true love is expressed by our unwavering devotion to the Father; in the moral life, our true love is expressed by our unwavering devotion to justice; and in the public life, our true love is expressed by our unwavering devotion to others. In a word, true love is a total self-sacrifice for the sake of the other, beginning with God and extending to those around us.
Understand what you do and imitate what you celebrate. While these words are directed towards the ordinandi, they may also apply to everyone. Our baptism sets us apart from the world and initiates us into the three-fold ministry of Jesus, who is priest, prophet, and king. That makes us all priestly, especially when we conform our lives after the life of Jesus. Understand what you do and imitate what you celebrate.
To understand, in this sense, means to fully comprehend what we are doing. This is true for whatever we do, whatever our state in life, whatever our vocation, whatever our profession. If we are not following Christ, how can we ever expect to lead others to him? Perhaps the growing number of empty seats in Churches is a sign that we need to renew our own priestly identities.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Now is a good time for us to prepare for how we might renew our heart and soul and better conform our lives after the life of Jesus. Since we have always been taught to focus on giving something up for Lent, I would like to suggest the opposite. I think we have all given up plenty over the last two years, and many of us are still grieving. Instead, I would like to suggest we focus on ways we can be more like Jesus for others. Remember, Jesus went about teaching, healing, forgiving, embracing, eating, drinking, and above all, loving those he encountered. Can we do that for Lent? Can we be the beautiful people, the forgiven people, the chosen people that God has sent to be the light of the world? By so doing, we will be like trees that bear good fruit, providing nourishment, comfort, and joy to others.
And so, as we turn to the celebration of the Eucharist, may the communion we share further unite us with the mission of Jesus, our priest, prophet, and king, so that our eyes may be opened and we may lead others to Christ.
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