In Matthew’s Gospel, it is almost always the case that those who don’t know Jesus as Lord refer to Him as Teacher (cf. 12:38; 17:24; 19:16, et. al.). The disciples, in Matthew, never call Jesus this. This of course does not mean that Jesus was not a teacher. He was. But Matthew seems to use the term to especially refer to those who only knew him as teacher, and often there is a negative connotation. Often the one calling Jesus teacher is (ironically) presented as having an insufficient understanding of the things Jesus taught, as in the case of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16, who asked “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain eternal life.
In Matthew 26:18, Jesus sends the disciples ahead to Jerusalem with the message to find “a certain man” and tell him “the Teacher says, My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”
The fact that Jesus identifies himself to this “certain man” as simply ‘the Teacher,’ suggests that the man was not a follower of Christ (if Matthew is consistent in the use of this word), but someone who perhaps Jesus had met and who probably even regarded Jesus highly (after all, Jesus fully expects the man to follow his instructions). And that itself is an interesting thing to ponder. Jesus, on the night before he was crucified, chose the home of someone who was not a disciple, but just perhaps an admirer.
When I started to write this blog, my original thought was to draw a distinction between someone who considers Jesus as Lord and those who merely think of Him as a good teacher. It’s an old story though and one that’s been told too many times. Plus, I wonder if the message in this passage, is not (as in so many others) to distinguish between those who called Jesus Lord and those who called him Teacher, but rather of the need to make room in our worship, in our gathering, in our Bible studies and in home groups, for the latter as Jesus seems to being doing in his final hours. I mean, that really is what the former are called to do isn’t it, invite those in who are pondering, who are searching, who are testing the waters, as it were?
And so perhaps Matthew’s final point regarding the designation “Teacher” is, yes there is a difference between calling Jesus Lord and calling Him Teacher. But that difference should not function as a barrier between those outside the community of faith and those inside, but as a reminder of the need for insiders to constantly be inviting, including, and welcoming those who are still seeking and searching.
Each of the disciples, on the night of the Passover, was certain that they would not betray Jesus (Matt. 26:22). Yet one of them would. And each of them was certain that they would not abandon Jesus in his moment of need. Yet all of them would. As Jesus was arrested, we read, “then all the disciples left Him and fled.”
“Surely not I,” is the constant inner refrain, the voice of self-confidence that foolishly trusts in our own deluded perceptions of religious devotion. It is our inner voice that always overreaches, always over estimates, always esteems higher than it should.
It is also interesting to note, that after the cross, according to church tradition, every one of the disciples except John, died the death of a martyr. Their fragile faith somehow was transformed into something very solid. Every one of them went from trusting in the doomed apparatus of self-determination to standing firmly on the power of the cross.
And every one of us fight the battle of “surely not I.” We all, at some point, conceive of our faith as a matter of our own will power, as something that, if we just try harder will lead to our success. We believe confidently that we will never deny Jesus by our words or actions. Yet, at some point, we all do. And eventually, we all discover the gross insufficiency of such an approach. And, hopefully, we discover that what we all need, what transforms our faith into something enduring and real is a revelation of the power of the cross. There, at the cross, we are moved from “surely not I” to “here I am Lord, send me.” Because there we are confronted with the radical and limitless love that simultaneously declares the severity of our sins, and the dedication of Jesus to our cause. And only with that realization can we become truly dedicated to His cause.
Our questions can be revealing. There is an interesting contrast between the question posed by Judas to the chief priests (Matt. 26:15) and the question the other disciples directed to Jesus. Judas had asked “what will you give me to betray Him to you?” Whereas the other disciples asked Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?”
The two questions could not be further apart. Judas asks “what can you do for me?” while the other disciples ask, “what can we do for you?”
Sin is fundamentally rooted in our self-interest. However we may try to justify it as need or necessity or righteousness, selfishness always has a way of rising to the surface and revealing itself for what it is. And the only cure for selfishness is concern for others.
I am challenged by this to both pray more for others and less for myself, and to do more for others and less for myself. For this was the very essence of Jesus’ journey to the cross, who “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2.6-7).
This statement by Jesus in Matthew 26:11 is fundamentally about valuing the presence of Jesus. It is not an excuse, though some have tried to use it this way, to neglect the poor. Rather Jesus is commending a woman who recognizing His own immanent death and burial (if not necessarily His resurrection), performs an extravagant demonstration of love towards Jesus.
Of the many good deeds we ought to do as Christ followers, worship is the greatest good deed of them all. It provides for us the necessary endurance to fulfill the “always” present needs of others—“you will always have the poor with you.” And it adorns and adds luster to our gospel proclamation—“wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
“Always” is an overwhelming word. It’s an exhausting word. It reminds of us of the constant obligation we have to be servants of those in need. But it also, in this context, highlights the fact that we cannot possibly carry out such an obligation unless we have first allowed the presence of Jesus to shape and transform our affections.
This week as we celebrate the Resurrection, I’m reminded of the necessity of extravagant worship, of worshipping with reckless abandon even, to the point where all my priorities and all my busyness converge on the Person of Jesus. But the key, I believe, is not to do this as a means to an end—not to worship ‘so that’ we can serve better, but to worship solely in order to be in Jesus’ presence. When that is our only goal, our only desire, then the love of Jesus is able to transform our hearts and minds (Rom. 12:1-2) so that our service is not driven by obligation but by the same radical love that carried Jesus to the cross.
You will always have the poor with you is a reminder to prioritize presence over performance, relationship over responsibilities. It is a reminder that the most significant thing we can do at anytime of the year, is to lavish extravagant love on our Savior.
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (Chicago: Moody, 2009), 230 pp.
This book is an excellent resource on how to best serve the poor in missions. Fikkert and Corbett provide a good basic introduction to the biblical concept of the kingdom of God and how that informs the mission of the church. They also offer a definition of poverty that focuses on broken relationships, and warn missions practitioners of serving the poor in ways that ultimately may be harmful rather than helpful. The book is easy to read, practical, and filled with wisdom for pastors, missionaries, and short-term team members who plan on engaging the poor through missions work. From our perspective, this is the very best resource available on this issue.
Recently AG Care had the privilege of sending a team to Botswana to help our AGWM missionaries there address a long-standing need. This trip came about after missionaries Bob and Barb Van Wyk responded to a request from the pastor of an AG church located in the Dukwi refugee camp.
From left to right: The assessment team: Bob and Barb Van Wyk, Pastor Makoni, Christine Little, and Suzanne Hurst.
The Dukwi Refugee Camp lies just north of Francistown and has been in existance for about 30 years. It is home to roughly 3000 people from DRC, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Somalia, and Angola. There is an AG church in this camp, and it was the pastor of this church, Patrice, who first contacted AG missionaries in Botswana. The crucial issue for everyone involved, as Suzanne Hurst put it, was to help this local church find “God’s story” for them. Why are they where they are, and what does God want to do through them?
Refugee church leaders and their church.
AG Care was able to respond to this request by having two missionaries, Suzanne Hurst and Christine Little on the ground within two weeks of receiving the request. Suzanne and Christine were able to bring to the situation expertise in community development, so that a response could be put in place that was driven by local people and local resources. This is what AG Care is all about!
Bob Van Wyk reflecting on visit by the AG Care team had this to say: “Their insight and expertise are invaluable to us in evaluating and proposing action steps to work strategically in establishing a partnership with the national church and the people at the camp.”
We would like to reiterate that this effort was successful because the Van Wyks did all the right things. First, they sought input and guidance from their Area Director. Second, their Area Director contacted AG Care, asking for guidance on how the team could respond in a way that fit within the strategic plan of the Botswana field. Third, the Van Wyks displayed great humility by welcoming outside input and guidance. As a result, the trip was extremely successful, as a healthy course has been set for this AG Church to more effectively minister to the needs of its community.