Jesus’ Qualities as Preacher and Teacher

As a priest I am called to preach and teach, and I must look to Jesus Christ as my model. In this I refer to the real Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture. He clearly loved God’s people, and because of that he could not abide a limited notion of salvation for them. Jesus zealously insisted that they receive the whole counsel of God. He insisted on a dignity for them that was nothing less than the perfection of God Himself (cf. Matthew 5:41).

As a teacher, Jesus often operated in the mode of the prophets. Prophets have a way of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Yet despite Jesus’ often fiery and provocative stances, the Scriptures speak of the eagerness with which many flocked to hear Him.

      • And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Mat 7:28).
      • Sent to arrest Jesus, the temple guard returned empty-handed saying, No one ever spoke like that man (Jn 7:46).
      • And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words, which proceeded out of his mouth (Luke 4:22).
      • And the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37).

Jesus was a complex preacher and teacher. Let’s consider some of His qualities and ponder the sort of balance that He manifests.

I. His authority – The Scriptures often speak of the “authority” with which Jesus taught. The Greek word translated as “authority” is exousia, which means teaching out of (one’s own) substance, speaking to the substance of what is taught. Jesus would often say, “You have heard that is was said … But I say to you …” (cf Mat 5 inter al). Jesus spoke from His experience of knowing His Father and of knowing and cherishing the Law and its truth in His own life. He brought a personal weight to what He said. He knew of what He spoke; He did not merely know about it.

This personal authority was compelling; even today, those with this gift stand apart from those who merely preach and teach the “safe” maxims of others without adding their own experience. Jesus personally bore witness in His own life to the truth He proclaimed—and people noticed the difference.

How about you? You and I are called to speak out of the experience of the Lord in our own life and to be able to say with authority, “Everything that the Lord and His Body, the Church, have declared is true because, in the laboratory of my own life, I have tested it and come to experience it as true and transformative.”

II. His witness – A witness recounts what he has seen and heard with his own eyes and ears, what he himself knows and has experienced. Jesus could say to the Jews of his time, If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him, and I keep his word (Jn 8:55). He attests to what He personally knows; He is not just repeating what others have said.

While we cannot witness immediately to all that Jesus could, for He had lived with the Father from all eternity, as we make our walk we can speak to what the Lord has done in our own life and how we have come to know Him in conformity with His revealed Word.

III. His respect for others – The Latin root of the word “respect” gives it the meaning “look again” (re (again) + spectare (to look)). Frequently in Scripture, especially in Mark’s Gospel, there appears the phrase, “Jesus looked at them and said …”

In other words, Jesus was not merely issuing dictates to an unknown, faceless crowd. He looked at them, and He looks at us. It is a personal look, a look that seeks to engage us in a very personal way. He is speaking to us. His teaching is not merely for an ancient crowd; it is for us. He looks to us, and He looks again. Are we looking? Are we listening?

Do you look with respect to those whom you are called to teach or to the children you are called to raise? Do you engage them by your look of respect and love?

IV. His love and patience for sinners – Jesus could be very tough, even exhibiting impatience, but He is willing to stay with us in a long conversation. One text says, When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them at great length (Mk 6:34). Yes, He teaches us at great length; He stays in long conversations with us. He knows that we are dull of mind and hard of heart, so He persistently and consistently teaches.

Do we do that? Or do we quickly write people off? Jesus had a long conversation with a Samaritan woman who, frankly, was quite rude to Him at first (John 4). He had a long conversation with Nicodemus, who was also at times resistant and argumentative (Jn 3). He had a long conversation with His Apostles, who were often slow and inept.

V. His capacity to both afflict and console – Jesus said, “Blessed are you,” but just as often said “Woe to you.” Jesus comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable. All of us fall into both categories. We need comfort but are often too comfortable in our sins. A true prophet fears no man and speaks to the truth of God.

A true prophet has no permanent allies to please and no permanent enemies to oppose. The determination of every moment is based on conformity or lack of conformity to the truth of God. Jesus said to Peter, Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah. (Mat 16:17), and He gave him the keys to the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose. But in the very next passage, Jesus says to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! (Mat 16:23)

VI. His parables – Stories are an important way to teach. A story that registers with us will rarely be forgotten. It is said that Jesus used more than 45 parables; some are full stories while others are just brief images. He used parables to link His sometimes-complex teaching to everyday life and to plant a seed of truth for our further reflection.

Parables are also like riddles. They admit of various interpretations. A good parable leaves its listener wanting more, seeking a definitive interpretation.

Parables are powerful for variety of reasons. Learn stories and learn to share them!

VII. His questions – Jesus asked well over a hundred questions in the gospel. Here are just a few: “What did you go out to the desert to see? “Why do you trouble the woman?” “How many loaves do you have?” “Do you say this of me on your own or have others told you of me?”

Good teachers ask questions and do not rush to answer every question. A question is pregnant with meaning; it invites a search. The Socratic method uses questions to get to the truth, especially on a personal level: “Why do you ask that? “What do you mean by this?” “Do you think there are any distinctions needed in your claim?”

Here is a list of one hundred questions that Jesus asked: 100 Questions Jesus Asked  Read them; they will make you think—a lot, I hope!

VIII. His use of “focal instances” – Jesus does not propose to cover every moral situation or every doctrinal truth in one afternoon. He uses “focal instances,” through which He illustrates principles.

A good example of can be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), where, to illustrate the principle that we are to fulfill the law and not merely keep its minimal requirements, Jesus uses several examples or focal instances; He speaks to anger, lust, divorce, oaths, retaliation, love of enemies, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In Mathew 25:31ff, the Lord uses the corporal works of mercy to illustrate the whole of the Law.

These are not an exhaustive treatment of the moral life. Through the use of illustrations, the Lord asks us to learn the principle of fulfillment and then apply it to other situations.

Good teachers teach principles because they cannot possibly envision or address every scenario. Having instructed their students in first principles, they can trust that their students will make solid decisions when faced with a new situation.

IX. His use of hyperbole – Jesus uses hyperbole frequently: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven (Mk 10:25). If your eye scandalizes you, gouge it out (Mat 5:29). There was a man who owed ten thousand talents (over a hundred thousand years’ wages) (Mat 18:24). It would be better for you to be cast into the sea with a great millstone about your neck than to scandalize one of my little ones (Mat 18:6).

It’s hard to forget effective hyperbole. Who of us can forget Jesus’ parable about the man with a 2×4 coming out of his eye who rebukes his neighbor for the splinter in his? I often tell my congregation, “Go to Mass, or go to Hell,” which is my way of saying that missing Mass is a mortal sin.

Good teachers use hyperbole at the right moments.

X. His use of servile fear – Jesus often used fear-based arguments. He warned of Hell, of unquenchable fire, and of the worm that does not die. His parables feature of a lot of summary judgments at which people are found unprepared, are excluded from Heaven, or are cast into darkness. Jesus warns of the wailing and grinding of teeth. He also warns of a permanent abyss between Heaven and Hell that no one will be able to cross.

Many today are dismissive of fear-based arguments, but Jesus used them; He used them a lot. I guess Jesus never got the memo that this is a poor way to teach! For the spiritually mature, love can and does replace the need for fear-based arguments, but, frankly, many are not that mature, and a healthy dose of fear and the threat of unending regret is often necessary.

To teach as Jesus did is to include warning of judgment and of Hell.

XI. His anger and zeal – Jesus does not hesitate to express His anger and grief at the hardness and stubbornness of many. One day He said, You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? (Matt 17:17) And in Mark’s Gospel we read, And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was furious and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them” (Mk 10: 13-14).

Yes, Jesus memorably cleansed the temple and drove out iniquity there. He engaged in heated debates with the Jewish leaders and with unbelievers. He did not hesitate to call them hypocrites, vipers, liars, and the sons of those who murdered the prophets.

A parent who never reacts with anger risks misleading his child into making light of or not being serious enough about wrongdoing, disrespect, or stubborn unrepentance.

We must be careful of our anger, however. We do not have the kind of control over it that Jesus did; neither are we as able to see into people’s hearts as He was. There is a place for anger and Jesus uses it—a lot, actually. Anger signals an important teaching and rebukes a lighthearted response.

XII. His refusal to compromise – There was in Jesus very little compromise about the serious teachings of doctrine or issues related to our salvation. He said that either we would believe in Him or we would die in our sins (Jn 8). Jesus also said that He was the only way to the Father and that no one would come to the Father except through Him. He declared that no one who set his hand to the plow and looked back was fit for the reign of God. Jesus said that no one who would not deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him was worthy of Him. We are told to count the cost and decide now, and we are warned that delay might be deadly.

Much of this is countercultural in today’s world. Many insist on a softer Christianity, in which we can love the world and also love God. Sorry, no can do. A friend of the world is an enemy to God.

Jesus teaches His fundamental truths in an uncompromising way. This is because they are truths for our salvation. Following these truths vaguely or inconsistently will not win the day. Some disciplines need to be followed precisely. To teach as Jesus did involves insisting that the fundamental doctrines of our faith be accepted fully and wholeheartedly.

XIII. His forgiveness – Forgiveness may not at first seem to be an obvious way of teaching, but consider that teachers often have to accept that students don’t get everything right the first time. Teaching requires a patient persistence as students first acquire skills and then master them.

While setting high standards, Jesus offers forgiveness, not as a way of denying perfection but as a way to facilitate our advancement by grace and trust.

XIV. His equipping and authorizing of others – Good teachers train new ones.

Jesus trained the Twelve and, by extension, other disciples as well. He led and inspired them. He also prepared them for the day when He would hand on the role of teacher to them. We who would teach need to train our successors and inspire new and greater insights.

Teach me, Lord, by your example, to teach as you taught and to preach as you would have me preach.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Jesus’ Qualities as Preacher and Teacher

The Whole Counsel of God

There is a wonderful passage from the Acts of Apostles in today’s Mass and it comprises a sermon from an early Bishop (St. Paul) to the priests of the early Church.

Paul’s Farewell Sermon – The scene is Miletus, a town in Asia Minor on the coast not far from Ephesus. Paul, who is about to depart for Jerusalem summons the presbyters (priests) of the early Church at Ephesus. Paul has ministered there for three years and now summons the priests for this final exhortation. In the sermon, St. Paul cites his own example of having been a zealous teacher of the faith who did not fail to preach the “whole counsel of God.” He did not merely preach what suited him or made him popular. He preached it all. To these early priests Paul leaves this legacy and would have them follow in his footsteps. Let’s look at excerpts from this final exhortation. First the text them some commentary:

From Miletus Paul had the presbyters  of the Church at Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, “You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me…., and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes. I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus…..But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem……“But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again. And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God….. (Acts 20:1-38 selected)

Here then is the prescription for every Bishop, every priest and deacon, every catechist, parent and Catholic: that we should preach the whole counsel (the entire plan of God). It is too easy for us to emphasize only that which pleases us or makes sense to us or fits in our worldview. There are some who love the Lord’s sermons on love but cannot abide  his teachings on death, judgment, heaven and hell. Some love to discuss liturgy and ceremony but the care of the poor is far from them. Others point to His compassion but neglect his call to repentance. Some love the way he dispatches the Pharisees and other leaders of the day but become suddenly deaf when the Lord warns against fornication or insists that we love our neighbor, enemy and spouse. Some love to focus inwardly and debate over doctrine but the outward focus of true evangelization to which we are commanded (cf Mat 28:19) is neglected.

In the Church as a whole we too easily divide out rather predictably along certain lines and emphases. Life issues here, social justice over there. Strong moral preaching over here, compassionate inclusiveness over there. When one side speaks the other side says, “There they go again.”

And yet somewhere we must be able to say with St. Paul that we did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. While this is especially incumbent on the clergy it must also be true for parents and all who attain to any leadership in the Church. All of the issues above are important and must have their proper place in the preaching and witness of every Catholic, clergy and lay. While we may have gifts to work in certain areas we should learn to appreciate the whole counsel and the fact that others in the Church may be needed to balance and complete our work. It is true we must exclude notions that stray from revealed doctrine, but within doctrine’s protective walls it is necessary that we not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God.

And if we do this we will suffer. Paul speaks above of tears and trials. In preaching the whole counsel of God, (not just favorite passages and politically correct themes), expect to suffer. Expect to not quite fit in with people’s expectations. Jesus got into trouble with just about everyone. He didn’t just offend the elite and powerful. Even his own disciples puzzled over his teachings on divorce saying “If that is the case of man not being able to divorce his wife it is better never to marry!” (Matt 19). Regarding the Eucharist, many left him and would no longer walk in his company (John 6). In speaking of his divine origins many took up stones to stone him but he passed through their midst (Jn 8).  In addition he spoke of taking up crosses, forgiving your enemy and preferring nothing to him. He forbade even lustful thoughts let alone fornication, and insisted we must learn to curb our unrighteous anger. Preaching the whole counsel of God is guaranteed to earn us the wrath of many.

As a priest I have sadly had to bid farewell to congregations and this is a critical passage whereby I examine my ministry. Did I preach even the difficult stuff? Was I willing to suffer for the truth? Did my people hear from me the whole counsel of God or just the safe stuff?

How about you? Have you proclaimed the whole counsel of God? If you are clergy when you move on…..if you are a parent when your child leaves for college…..if you are a Catechist when the children are ready to be confirmed or have reached college age…..If you teach in RCIA and the time comes for sacraments……Can you say you preached it all? God warned Ezekiel that if he failed to warn the sinner, that sinner would surely die for his sins but that Ezekiel himself would be responsible for his death, (Ez 3:17ff). Paul is able to say he is not responsible for the death (the blood) of any of them for he did not shrink from proclaiming the whole counsel of God. How about us?

The whole counsel of God.

This video contains the warning to the watchmen (us) in Ezekiel 3. Watch it if you dare.

Some of my best friends are Sisters.

Seriously, some of my best friends where called to religious life. One in particular, Sister Marcia Hall, OSP, helped me to discern my call to the diaconate. She is truly gifted at walking with those who have a desire to follow Christ. Fittingly, she is helping several people in discerning God’s call as the director of vocations for her community.

I just wanted to share her story:



The Oblate Sisters of Providence taught me in elementary school at Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd School in Trenton, New Jersey. However, I did not feel called to the community until I was in my late 20s and in graduate school. One day I had a vision of myself in an Oblate habit. At the time I wasn’t interested, so I finished my PhD in sociology and went on to work at the college level, as a teacher and administrator.

Feeling unsatisfied and realizing the “Hound of Heaven” had never let go, I started to visit Baltimore, to see what it really meant to be a sister. My discernment took eleven years – if you look up “stubborn” in the dictionary, you’ll see my picture! I finally entered the community on my 42nd birthday. In December 2008 I celebrated 10 years as an Oblate Sister of Providence.

As a sister still young in religious life I have only been missioned a few places. As a junior sister I was interim principal at St. Benedict the Moor School in Washington, DC for a year. The next three years I spent as assistant principal at The Seton Keough High School, an Archdiocesan school where Oblates had never served. Next, I was principal of our high school, St. Frances Academy, also for three years. During my time at Saint Frances I made my final vows to God and the community. Now I happily serve as US vocation director.

There are certainly ups and downs in this life, as there are in any other way of life. But I stay because I have never been more satisfied. I know God called me, and I am glad I answered the call. Can my life get any more exciting? I’ve been photographed for a national magazine {December 2008 EBONY} and interviewed for a national radio program (Tell Me More, NPR, December 26, 2008). I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me!

Sr. Marcia L. Hall, OSP


Please pray for Sister Marcia and for all who are discerning a call to religious life.

Here is a very nice Video on the History of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The woman pictured below is Sharon Knecht who is the archivist for the Order. This video interiviews her and many of the Sisters at the Motherhouse in Baltimore:      Video on the Oblate Sisters of Providence

The Teaching in the Title: Caritas in Vertitate

The Pope’s New Encyclical is entitled Caritas in Veritate. Simply translated, Cartias in Veritate means “Love (or Charity) in Truth”. But what the title really sets forth is a teaching that Love and Truth need each other for there to be balance.

Consider charity or love without reference to the truth. Too easily it becomes soft and affirms what should not be affirmed. Charity without truth can easily enable bad behavior. By this it can, though with good intentions, further enslave people in self-destructive behaviors. Charity without truth can lead others into error and sin by failing to correct. Charity without truth can rob others of their dignity through a kind of “soft bigotry” of low expectations. This kind of charity is patronizing and presumes that the poor and needy cannot be expected to attain higher goals, so it simply moves the goal posts. Charity without truth can rob others of the discipline they need to discover self-mastery. Without the truth Charity, or love,  is soft and can become downright poisonous.  Charity (or love) needs reference to the truth to be true charity, true love.

But Consider truth without charity. Without Charity, or love, the truth too easily becomes a club to swing at others, merely an argument to be won. Without Charity the truth can seem harsh and demanding, something to be avoided and feared. Without Charity the truth can seem unattainable. Without Charity, people usually lack the self-esteem necessary to even consider they could live the truth. When I was a child I needed my parents reassurance that I was able to do what was right and true. Without that love and encouragement the truth could seem crushing and impossible.

So there it is, a title, but more than a title, a teaching.

Familiar???? By the way Washingtonians, this title should seem familiar to you. The Late Archbishop of this Archdiocese James Cardinal Hickey had this for his motto: Veritatem in Caritate (Truth in Charity).

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Celebrant Goes to the Chair

After reverencing the altar the celebrant goes to the chair. Now perhaps a word or two on the chair is called for. Some one may wonder why the priest has a chair of some prominence. Why does he not simply sit among the faithful and come forward as necessary? Here again, there is a history to know.

In the ancient world, the Chair was a symbol of authority and office. We still have something of this today in the concept of the Judge’s Bench. The chair was also a symbol in the ancient world of teaching authority. It is our usual experience in the modern world that teachers stand when they teach or give lectures. But in the ancient world a teacher sat as they taught. Now they didn’t just sit in some casual way with their legs corssed and sipping coffee. Rather they were seated formally and in a prominent place in the room. You may remember that Scriptures usually record that when Jesus taught, he would sit (Mat 5:1; Luke 4:20; Mark 13:3; John 8:2; and dozens of other examples). It is my experience that many people find this fact surprising since they always imagine Jesus standing to preach but, it is almost never the case that he does that. He, like every ancient Rabbi and teacher sat to teach. So, the Chair has an ancient history of governance and teaching authority.

Now the Bishop’s Chair is especially imbued with this meaning and the priest’s chair only in a sense that is subordinate to the local Ordinary (i.e. chief Bishop). It is interesting to note that a bishop is given the special prerogative to sit in the sanctuary to preach. Most of them I notice do not use this option except at very formal times like ordinations. As a general rule, priests are expected to stand today at the pulpit or ambo when they preach. Despite this the priest’s chair continues to carry these ancient meanings already mentioned.

There is also a more modern notion given to the meaning of the chair in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal: The chair of the priest celebrant must signify his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing the prayer. …Any appearance of a throne, however, is to be avoided. (G.I.R.M # 310). Thus the Chair of the Priest also indicates a role of presiding over the Liturgical Assembly.

Now, in the end though, all three of these roles (governing, teaching and presiding) really refer to Christ. The priest, through his reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in configured to Christ and acts in persona Christi In the person of Christ). Thus the prominence of his chair is really a way to honor Christ who is the true High Priest of every liturgy. The priest’s chair is Jesus’ chair. It is ultimately He who governs, teaches and presides over us and He ministers through his priest. Pray for the grace to see beyond “Father Smith” and to see Jesus presiding over and ministering to you. In this sense the chair of the priest should have a very special place in your mind and a prominent place in our sanctuary. Surely the tabernacle and altar should be in the central axis but also prominent should be the Chair of the Priest, the Chair of Christ. 

The following video shows the Pope preaching at National’s Stadium in Washington DC. He preaches from the seated position, the more anciet way of teaching.