Stephanie Opsal, Albuquerque, NM
Which of your teachers in the past has had the strongest influence on your life?
Love Laid Down
Have you ever seen a teacher in action and thought, “That must be an easy job?” Conveying first-grade level math or language arts skills might not seem difficult from the outside, but it takes a special kind of person to become a thriving teacher. Beyond a thorough knowledge of subject content and developing a teaching style, teachers who truly engage students have an enormous capacity for love, dedication, and patience for their students. Many educators say they love their jobs and do not teach for the money; the strongest ones mean it.
In the worst times, such as the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, stories of hope rise out of the darkness, and many of these involve teachers who cared beyond their expected role. A first grade teacher, Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, jumped into gear at the first sound of a gunshot and locked all fifteen of her students safely in the classroom bathroom. The principal lost her life throwing herself at the gunman, giving every effort to stop him. One teacher responded after the event by teaching her students to pay it forward to others. To honor the twenty-six lost lives and recognize all the gifts received by the surviving children, a young teacher started a nonprofit organization called Classes4Classes to provide smartboards, books, and other school supplies to communities in need. She taught her students to become selfless, others-focused individuals in the same way she courageously stood before her class on the fateful day.
As recently as April 4th, 2015, a teacher made the news in a much more uplifting scenario. Ms. Sheila Howarth, teacher at Leeds City Academy, won the “Most Inspiring Teacher” award in Yorkshire, England. Ms. Howarth believes in every single student who walks in her door and feels proud of every achievement they make, no matter the size. She teaches and recognizes the progress of her students as individuals, not in comparison to one another. Some children she teaches know very little English, but she helps them achieve good grades and reach the collegiate level. She takes the effort to get to know the young people she interacts with every day, and she has found the hook that can turn “uninterested” kids into engaged learners. She encourages kids to make the most of their lives, starting today, and has “a big heart and all the pupils belong in it.” She never stopped encouraging students to keep trying, reach their potential when they could not see it themselves, and push toward their dream careers, even when the path looked daunting.
Sheila Howarth, along with numerous inspiring teachers throughout the world, whether noticed or not, choose not to leave work at work or do the bare minimum requirements to earn the paycheck. She gives her all for the kids and never gives up on them, which could not help but make a transformative difference in so many lives.
- Have you had a teacher that truly inspired you? What were the characteristics of that person?
- Can you think of a teacher that was not your favorite? What qualities was he or she lacking?
- Do you see Jesus as a selfless, loving teacher?
Fourth Sunday of Easter
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Jesus claims to be “the good shepherd,” the one who lays down his life for the sheep. In the passage, Jesus shows the difference between 1) the true good shepherd who loves the sheep and will do anything to protect them and 2) the hired hand who only takes care of the sheep for the necessity of earning money. The hired hand runs at any sign of danger or interruption to his own life, because he does not truly care about the sheep. The shepherd, however, loves the sheep to the point of sacrificial love. He would rather die and let the sheep live than see them get hurt or scattered. He puts them before himself.
In the second part, Jesus extends the metaphor and asserts that He also has sheep from another sheep pen that He calls His own. Finally, He does all of this by choice, based on His love and His close relationship with both the Father and the sheep, not under obligation.
Jesus uses this example to show that we are the sheep, and Jesus is our good shepherd. Look back through the passage with this mindset, replacing the word “sheep” with “us” or “them.” Hopefully this does not offend, but sheep have little brains. They may not be the most intelligent animals, but they can recognize their leader’s voice and follow. Sheep are great at flocking together. If God is our shepherd leader, we can agree that our intelligence and understanding pales in comparison to His. “For my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts,” God says through the prophet Isaiah (55:8-9), and “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?” – Romans 11:34.
Jesus does not save us based on our level of intelligence. He saves and protects us because of His love, because by nature, He IS Love. This example of the sheep and the shepherd illustrates Christ’s selfless love for humankind. He lives out this truth through His death on the cross and resurrection. Instead of watching and letting all His sheep whom he created, leads, and loves die, Jesus stands before us and takes on the death that we deserve. Then He conquers death and rises again to life! What a GOOD shepherd we have!
How can I be sure that Christ died for ME specifically, and not only for all the super holy, religious people? Jesus said, “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (v. 14-15).
Jesus does not love you reluctantly, shaking His head but loving you because He has to. Quite the contrary, He is the shepherd that puts little sheep lives before His own perfect life, the teacher that gives everything he can for each individual learner, and the one who does everything from the motivation of love, even letting sinful men nail him to a cross for the sake of us “having life, and having it to the full.” (John 10:10)
- Do you view Jesus more as a loving, good shepherd or as a hired hand just leading you for His own gain? Think of times when you or other people in your life have acted like Jesus or the hired hand.
- What is your favorite line from this passage and why?
- What connections can you make between the inspiring teacher from the article and Jesus, our good shepherd? How are they similar?
- Read the Sandy Hook poem found at http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2075578/jewish/Heroism-in-Sandy-Hook.htm and discuss the character traits of these heroic teachers. In what way are you a teacher? What little change can you make in your life to become more helpful and loving toward others?
- Write a short poem or narrative from the perspective of someone in another profession, possibly your future career choice. Think about how you can show Jesus’ selfless love and service to others in any job or school position you may have. Write down a couple possibilities you will try.
- Listen to the song “It Was Love” by Abandon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfyutFUdUEw). What lyrics stood out to you? These are biblical truths.
- Read the story of “The Lost Sheep” in Luke 15:1-7. Discuss how this relates to our Gospel reading today.
Jesus, thank you for being our Good Shepherd and never leaving us or letting us down. Help us to become selfless, loving, Christ-like people, quick to act and take opportunities to serve others in Your name. Hold us in your grace and love. In your holy name, amen.