When I was in seminary we studied the traditional understandings of prophet, priest, and king that were part of the Old Testament story of God’s chosen leaders. Part of what we were invited to do was to think about pastoral ministry in those categories, understanding that some of the time it was important to speak and act prophetically in our leadership role. Other times called for a more priestly function, when we might be engaging the rites or rituals of the church. And sometimes the administrative or visioning role called for a more “kingly” function (although we would generally call it something else).
Yet recently I was reflecting on how Jesus in the Gospels was often compared to a rabbi/teacher rather than these other characteristics. Jaroslav Pelikan writes that Jesus was referred to in the New Testament by four Aramaic titles, which we translate as “teacher,” “prophet,” “Christ” or “Lord.” He goes on to say that except for two passages, the Aramaic word for teacher (rabbi) is used in the Gospels only for Jesus. Pelikan surmises that it is safe to say that it was as rabbi/teacher that Jesus was known and addressed. That is certainly not to diminish the other words by which Jesus was known. Clearly we who call ourselves Christians understand Jesus as Lord and Christ.
But if we understand the pastoral role as following an example set down for us by Jesus, then might it be helpful to think of it more like the rabbi/teacher than Messiah? After all, Jesus is our Messiah. We do not need to fill that function. In fact if we try, that generally gets us into big trouble!
This past week in my journaling I found myself writing a thank you to God for helping me to gain clarity that it is not our task to fix, solve, save, convict or win. Rather what God calls us to do is participate, contribute, help, and attend to the work of the Kingdom that is coming here on earth as it is in heaven. The former tasks are God’s. The latter are ours. In my mind, this is why Jesus can tell those who are listening that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). We don’t have to solve all the problems we see before us. Rather we live obediently and faithfully, trusting that God will take care of that. We work with the Holy Spirit, not instead of the Holy Spirit!
That doesn’t let us off the hook by any means. We are not to simply sit back and let God do everything. But neither are we asked to do everything.
The image of teacher strikes me as a good one to follow. Teachers seek to call out the best in students; they challenge them to grow; they help them to gain new knowledge, insight and practice. However, they don’t do everything for them. They challenge the students to put forth their best efforts, but the teacher is not there to fix everything, solve every problem or win every battle for the student.
John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus left much work for the Holy Spirit to do once he left the scene. Yet he had instilled certain principles and practices that he expected the disciples to continue to implement so that they could carry on the work he had begun.
I’m going to ruminate on the image of rabbi/teacher as a good model for the pastoral role. As I do that, I’d welcome hearing from you about the value of such an image (whether or not you are a pastor).