Mark 4:33-34

THE WISE TEACHER AND THE WISE SCHOLAR

Mk. 4:33-34

It was with many such parables that he kept speaking the word to them, suiting his instruction to their ability to hear it. It was his custom not to speak to them without a parable; and when they were by themselves, he unfolded the meaning of everything to his own disciples.

Here we have a short but perfect definition of both the wise teacher and the wise learner. Jesus suited his instruction to the ability of those who were listening to him. That is the first essential in wise teaching.

There are two dangers that the wise teacher must at all costs avoid.

(a) He must avoid all self-display. A teacher’s duty is not to draw attention to himself but to draw attention to his subject. A love of self-display can make a man attempt to scintillate at the expense of truth. It can make him think more of clever ways of saying a thing than of the thing itself. Or, it can make him so desirous of displaying his own erudition that he becomes so obscure and elaborate and involved that the ordinary man cannot understand him at all. There is no virtue in talking over the head of an audience. As someone said, “The fact that a man shoots above the target only proves that he is a bad shot.” A good teacher must be in love with his subject and not in love with himself.

(b) He must avoid a sense of superiority. True teaching does not consist in telling people things. It consists in learning things together. It was Plato’s idea that teaching simply meant extracting from people’s minds and memories what they already knew. The teacher who stands on a pedestal and talks down will never be successful. True teaching consists in sharing and discovering truth together. It is a joint exploration of the countries of the mind.

There are certain qualities which he who would teach must ever seek to acquire.

(a) The teacher must possess understanding. One of the great difficulties of the expert is to understand why the non-expert finds a thing so difficult to understand or to do. It is necessary for the teacher to think with the learner’s mind and to see with the learner’s eyes, before he can really explain and impart any kind of knowledge.

(b) The teacher must possess patience. The Jewish Rabbi Hillel laid it down, “An irritable man cannot teach,” and insisted that the first essential of a teacher is that he must be even-tempered. the Jews laid it down that if a teacher found that his scholars did not understand a thing he must begin again without rancour and without irritation and explain it all over again. That is precisely what Jesus did all his life.

(c) The teacher must possess kindness. Jewish teaching regulations forbade all excessive punishment. Especially they forbade all punishment which would humiliate the scholar. The teacher’s duty was always to encourage, and never to discourage. Anna Buchan tells how her old grandmother had a favourite phrase, “Never daunton youth.” It is easy for the teacher to use the lash of his tongue on the pupil with the, limping mind; it is often a temptation to score a cheap triumph by making such a pupil the target of such sarcasms and witticisms as will make him a laughing-stock. The teacher who is kind will never do that.

This passage also shows us the wise learner. It gives us a picture of an inner circle to whom Jesus could really and fully explain things.

(a) The wise learner does not go away to forget. He goes away to think over what he has heard. He chews it over until he has finally digested it. Epictetus, the wise Stoic teacher, used to be grieved by some of his pupils. He said that men ought to use the philosophy they learned, not to talk about, but to live by. In a crude metaphor, he said that sheep do not vomit up the grass in order to show the shepherd how much they have eaten; they digest it and use it to produce wool and milk. The wise scholar goes away, not to forget what he has learned, and not to display what he has learned, but quietly to think it over until he has discovered what it means for life and for living for him.

(b) Above all, the wise learner seeks the master’s company. After Jesus had spoken the crowds dispersed; but there was a little company who lingered with him and did not want to leave him. It was to them that he unfolded the meaning of everything. In the last analysis, if a man is a really great teacher, it is not so much the man’s teaching that we wish to know, but the man himself. His message will always lie not so much in what he says as in what he is. The man who wishes to learn from Christ must company with Christ. If he does that he will win, not only learning, but life itself.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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