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When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Many of the disciples said: ‘This teaching is difficult’ … and no longer went about with him.
Good teachers develop different ways of presenting facts in order that their students might acquire both knowledge and understanding. Good teachers work hard at developing their own understanding of the different ways in which students learn. Some students will prefer an intellectual, book-centred style of learning, whilst others will achieve a greater level of understanding through practical experience. Each student is different and it is the responsibility of their teachers to work with this in the most efficient and effective way possible.
Jesus was the perfect teacher. Throughout his ministry he taught, preached and demonstrated the truths that would open the kingdom of heaven to all who chose to take that route. He also did the inexplicable in order that he might spark our curiosity and excitement. Jesus understands each of us so well that none of us could doubt his skill as a teacher, quite apart from the fact that he had the most important and thrilling knowledge to pass on.
Teaching is, of course, a two-way process. Even the very best teaching is futile if the student will not engage with the lesson that is being taught. Teaching and learning are inextricably linked. Perhaps we can remember how teaching and learning worked in our own school days. We can probably remember those lessons that left us bewildered and confused. That may have been down to poor teaching technique, but it is more probable that there were faults on both sides of the equation. Perhaps we should have asked ourselves about our own intellectual inertia, our own unwillingness to engage.
In today’s reading we read of many of his disciples expressing their confusion because Jesus’ teaching is difficult. Given the millions of contradictory books we could read on theological issues it is difficult for us to disagree with those disciples. But, do we exert sufficient effort when it comes to learning, understanding and applying Jesus’ teaching? Or … do we take the easy route, the one that leads us away from Christ?
Today we are challenged to respond to that old-time school report favourite: Could do better! We are challenged to listen, to question and to experiment. We are challenged to trust in the quality and the veracity of Jesus’ teaching. We are challenged to rise to the top of the class as we seek to follow the path that his teaching illuminates for all who have faith in him.