Thursday, April 25, 2013

To Grow in Wisdom: Jesus as a Model of Liberal Arts (Part 2)

            Perhaps he could, some may argue.  “Of course he knew how to refute them; he was God and God knows everything.  Jesus didn’t need to learn the Bible because he wrote it!”  Yet this ignores what Luke told us earlier in his gospel.  “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).  This means that the four-year-old Jesus did not have a supernatural knowledge of reality.  He was not discoursing in Christian metaphysics while his kindergarten playmates ate mud pies.  He had to learn things just as we all must.  He knew the Bible not because he had a supernatural, divine memory of it but because he applied himself to it.  He learned it.  The Book of Hebrews tells us that he lived just as we did and felt the full human experience.  He cannot be held to be fully human if he didn’t live the human experience—including long days of note-taking and memorization.
            However, Jesus not only demonstrates intellectual knowledge but also earthy, tangible service, though always to serve the greater purpose of his ministry.  His sermons were not designed for academic audiences but popular ones.  His audiences were primarily farmers and fishermen.  His parables frequently use blue-collar metaphors familiar to them.  One of the most explicit stories of Jesus’s concern for the practical comes in his healing of the paralytic.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that a crippled man is brought to Jesus.  He is lowered through the roof of the house in which Jesus is teaching.  When the man is lowered to him, he announces that the man’s sins are forgiven.  The Pharisees balk, murmuring to themselves that this is blasphemy.  Jesus knows their hearts and announces that he will prove his authority to forgive sin by healing the man.  We see in this that Jesus’s tangible ministry is spurred by a spiritual imperative.  Time would fail me to explore other examples like the feeding of the multitudes, his social discourse in the Sermon on the Mount, his affirmation of paying taxes to Caesar, even raising the dead.  Nevertheless, it is clear that Jesus believes that a bodily life must be grounded in a spiritual foundation.
            Most striking for our purposes, however, is how Jesus is passionately concerned with the hearts of his hearers over the particularities of how they make a living.  We read in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that a rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked how he may inherit eternal life.  He appeared to have all the correct practices, was obviously wealthy, had a promising political career ahead, and showed a real desire to follow Jesus.  To use Berry College language, his “head” and his “hands” appeared to be in order.  Then Jesus, loving him, drops a dramatic challenge upon the young man.  “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Rather than follow, this pious, intelligent, practical young man goes away sad.  In saying this, Jesus was not saying that all who follow him must be poor and destitute.  We see numerous people in the Bible who are wealthy Christians.  Yet Jesus knows something about this man; Mammon is his god and he will never be truly fulfilled until he casts his idol into the dust.  He must drop everything and follow this itinerant preacher for as long as he has left on Earth.  This man must leave his doubtlessly promising political career, all the financial gain he has achieved through his job, and follow the Master, an unwise career move in any century.  In saying this, Jesus illustrates what he taught in the Sermon on the Mount: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”  For Jesus, the heart of what we do cannot be devoted to profit.  It must be devoted to God.
            The greatest challenge to the mechanical/employability view of education is the very core of Jesus’s life and teaching.  Bill Gates told the National Governors Association in February 2011 that “everybody should have a sense of which of the colleges—both community and four-year institutions—are doing very well.  You can even break that down by the departments. […] The amount of subsidation is not that well-correlated to the areas that actually create jobs in the state—that create income in the state.”  And surely this is common sense, right?  Pour taxpayer resources into departments which create jobs, take the humanities off of life support, and you will maximize state investment in education.  Let the English majors be baristas and let the hard sciences do the real work in the economy.  Isn’t that what China and Japan do?  But the very premise of the Gospel Jesus preaches, the very premise of the entire Bible, is that truth must be revealed from the outside.  It is not enough that students graduate, make money, create jobs, and figure out who they are on their own.  The Bible says that truth must be revealed from without, not from within.  Jesus tells us that he came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.  He tells us that the Scriptures have been fulfilled within our hearing.  He tells us that we are in far more trouble than we ever realized in the Sermon on the Mount.  Most importantly of all, he tells us that greater love than we can possibly imagine has come in the body of the modest carpenter calling us home.
            This is why Christianity cannot affirm a libertarian view of education.  Education cannot consist solely in acquiring skills for a marketplace.  Christians throughout the centuries have followed Christ in affirming that education must be holistic.  We cannot be only concerned with right belief, lest we become like the teachers of the law who believed many of the right things yet were “whitewashed tombs”, clean on the outside yet full of death.  Nor may we be concerned only with the pragmatics and measurable outcomes (or incomes) of education lest we become like the rich young ruler who was successful and affluent, yet in the end worshiped money and comfort.  Christian education must be fully embodied, recognizing that Jesus Christ, the Truth, is concerned with the whole person.  Jesus’s final charge to the newly-formed Church is to “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”  Disciples cannot make themselves no matter how much money or job fulfillment they find.  They must be taught, head, heart, and hands.