Wherever He went, Jesus created learning experiences.
He sat as comfortably with the doctors of theology in the Temple university at Jerusalem as he did with commoners in the synagogue at Capernaum. He was as much at ease with huge crowds on the Galilean hillside as He was with individuals like Nicodemus. Children, foreigners and outcasts—all were welcomed with unusual grace.
Like Socrates, Jesus often initiated a lesson with a question. Questions help focus attention on essential points in a way that requires students to be fully present and fully engaged. There is no place to hide when the clock is ticking in anticipation of response.
Another technique Jesus used very effectively was story-telling.
An expert of Torah law confronted Jesus with a ‘trick question’. “Rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” His secret intent was to trap Jesus—’stump’ Jesus, ‘show Him up’, ‘score points’ at Jesus’ expense—to embarrass Jesus publicly.
Unfazed, Jesus countered with a question: “What is in the Torah? You are an expert of the Law, you’ve done the research—what does the Law say?”
Before the young man can answer, Jesus turned the laser on him with a second question: “How do YOU read it? Has the knowledge gained studying the Torah made YOU of greater benefit to those around you and engaged YOU in making the world a better place?”
Quick of wit, the young lawyer quotes the essence of Torah: “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor…”
Jesus commends him. “Very well answered. Do this and you will experience quality of life!”
Realizing he was caught in his own trap, the lawyer shifts the spotlight back on Jesus with a cynical question: “And who is my neighbor?”
Undisturbed, Jesus replies, “Let me tell you a story…“
What a classic example of turning even a ‘trick question’ (asked with malicious intent) into a ‘good question’, and in the process activating a learning experience in which the student was fully present and fully engaged throughout. In the end, the student faces a life-changing decision!
A dynamic of Jesus’ teaching, more profound than His questions and His stories, is revealed in the above exchange. (Luke 10:25-37)
Notice that not once did Jesus react, belittle, condemn or judge the lawyer?
How did Jesus keep His composure under such intense pressure?
In one of His encounters with Peter, Jesus announced, “You are Simon…but you shall be called Peter.”
Jesus was telling him, “You, and others around you, see yourself only as Simon—little more than a rough-edged, insignificant pebble. But from this moment on I call you Peter—because I see in you a solid, perfectly-chiseled stone that is foundational to the Church I establish!”
Jesus saw the lawyer for the self-absorbed conniver that he was. He saw Peter for the impetuous, abrasive fisherman that he was. Nevertheless, Jesus looked past the present reality of each and focused on the potential destiny hidden within. The objective of Jesus’ teaching was to empower each of His students to be free to be what they were created to be.
Trick question, impetuous personality, ignorance, failure—Jesus accepted whatever raw material was presented to Him. With questions, stories and insights that penetrated to the heart, Jesus skillfully chiseled and chipped at the rough-hewn block in front of Him. His patience, mercy and grace were unrelenting until His workmanship was accomplished—a unique masterpiece that reflected His Father’s glory.
Questions and stories are powerful teaching techniques, especially when used to empower our students to become that masterpiece of purpose and destiny each was created to be!
The Apostle Paul (who also was transformed by his encounter with Jesus) describes the process as he writes: “We are God’s masterpiece, completely transformed in union with Christ Jesus for a life of good actions already prepared by our Heavenly Father for us to do.”
We may be a pebble in our own eyes and little more than a rough stone in the eyes of others, but in the Father’s skillful hands, we are solid rock—a masterpiece in progress—specially shaped for the destiny He has prepared for us and perfectly fitted for our unique place and function in His church.
How much more empowering are Jesus’ teaching techniques when the lesson of His story becomes our personal experience! We can only pass on to our students what we have within us—the rest is just words.
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