The Way of BeautyCatholic Education I: Jesus the Teacher

The new academic year is just around the corner. For the next few weeks, this column will address some topics concerning the education our children and young adults irrespective of the type of school they attend or their grade level. All of them deserve a quality education second to none. They are our national treasure, the future of this country.  Their education must be our highest priority, and no child must be left behind. Not one. Christian educators look to Jesus the teacher as their Exemplar.

The Icon of Jesus the Teacher

From the beginning of the third century, Jesus has been depicted in several guises, for example, as a young shepherd dressed in a simple tunic, as Jesus the Teacher, and as Christ the Pantocrator, the majestic Ruler of the world. Jesus in his humanity is the visible presence of the hidden God.

One of the earliest and most beloved icons of the universal Church is that of Jesus the Teacher, located in Saint Catherine's Monastery at the base of Mount Sinai on the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.  

In the icon, a bearded Christ wears a brownish-purple imperial tunic and a dark blue cloak. His head is encircled by a halo. His oval face, emphasized by the circular contour of a well-trimmed and full head of hair, radiates quiet strength. The light of God's glory illumines his face and is depicted by a warm copper glow.  His penetrating eyes are in direct contact with the viewer. He is looking at you and me. To show that his senses are disciplined, his nose and mouth are small and pinched.     

The left hand holds a jeweled book, the Book of the Gospels. If it is opened, a consoling scripture verse is printed across its pages: "I am the light of the world," or "Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart" (Jn 8:12; Mt 11:29). His right hand is strong and secure. The fingers, elongated and thin, are arranged in a stylistic way: the thumb, fourth and fifth fingers touch and are curved inward toward the palm. The index and middle fingers are raised and symbolize the two natures of Jesus, the human and divine.  With this pose, he blesses the viewer. This icon depicts an attractive and even handsome Christ.

Jesus, the Model for Educators

Modern pedagogues have written much about the education of our children. Yet, Jesus' approach with others merits prior consideration.  What were some of the qualities of this perfect teacher?  

Authenticity. He taught not only by word but by example as well. People experienced his honesty, truthfulness, and integrity.  Today young people turn their backs on those who display artifice or insincerity. They are searching above all for truth and honesty in their elders.
Compassion. Jesus showed compassion to others, especially to the least in the crowd.

Attention to the individual. Jesus dealt with the individual according to his or her needs.  Centuries later, Jesuit pedagogy would give this the name, cura personalis, the care of the individual person. In the parable of the talents, everyone was enjoined to develop the talents given them by the master.  They were not to bury even one talent, as a servant in the parable did.

The individual sitting in classrooms awaits the adventure of learning, that of being led out from the darkness of ignorance in to the light and joy of knowledge. How many images can be used to describe each child? Each is a temple of God, an icon of God, an unfinished symphony. Each is a garden of budding flowers.  All are works of art in progress. The teacher is the essential mover who opens up new possibilities for those under his or her care.  

Respect. Even when Jesus was admonishing others, he respected them. Our students expect to be corrected, but in the process, they also expect to be respected because they are deserving of respect. Jesus never ridiculed others, not even those who argued for his death.

Quality. Can you imagine Jesus dealing in mediocrity, or that he didn't care? Can you imagine Jesus deciding that he was too tired to spend himself for the last person waiting to speak with him? There is no more vivid biblical curse against mediocrity than the sharp words in the Book of Revelation (3:16):  "Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." Those who gave scandal to children Jesus denounced.

Inspiration and vision. Jesus inspired others and gave them a vision for life. He set out to form disciples who would establish the kingdom of his Father.  He breathed inspiration into their lifeblood.

Our students should be able "to taste and see the goodness of the Lord" in every educator who stands before them.  Here begins education worthy of its name.

(To be continued)

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