From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Ten, Day Two
In Jesus’ day, the name “rabbi” or “teacher” was normally reserved for someone who had studied under another rabbi for many years. Jesus offended the religious leaders of his day by ignoring this system. Instead of apprenticing himself to a rabbi, he simply laid down his carpenter tools and called twelve ordinary men to become his disciples. Unlike other rabbis, who merely passed on the teaching of the rabbi under whom they had studied, Jesus spoke with an authority that startled many of his listeners.
Two thousand years later, we are called to become his disciples, to stay as close to him as a disciple would to a rabbi, studying his life, examining his teaching, and allowing his Spirit to remake us in his image. When you pray to Rabbi Jesus, remember that you are praying to the only Teacher who is all-wise, all-good, and all-powerful, able to transform not only your mind but also your heart.
[Jesus said to his disciples] “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master.” Matthew 23:8
Praying the Name
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:8-12
Reflect On: Matthew 23:8-12.
Praise God: For sending his Son to be our Teacher.
Offer Thanks: For the clear teaching of Christ in the Scriptures.
Confess: Any disregard for the teaching of Jesus.
Ask God: To give you a greater hunger to understand and practice your faith.
The other day my daughter asked whether she could invite her third grade teacher home to watch a favorite movie with her. I found myself explaining that teachers aren’t in the habit of making after-school play dates with their students. Still, relationships between students and teachers seem much less formal these days. One of my brothers is a teacher who every summer calls his upcoming fifth graders to tell them how much he is looking forward to having them in his class. When I was in school, kids would have fainted if a teacher had ever called them on the phone.
But as long as two thousand years ago in a place called Palestine, students and rabbis were extremely close. In fact, when a rabbi took disciples, they were linked to him for life, living in his house for several years without paying room and board in exchange for performing various kinds of personal service.
The idea was to live and breathe the master’s teaching — to learn not only what he knew but also who he was, so that they could replicate both his knowledge and his character. But it was hardly a relationship of equals. Hungry for praise, some rabbis demanded that their disciples show them even greater deference than a son would show a father. The rabbis Jesus criticized weren’t exactly models of humility.
Jesus, by contrast, hadn’t served as anyone’s understudy. A carpenter who hailed from the backwater of Galilee, he had simply quit his trade and called twelve not very impressive men to follow him in what was clearly a rabbi-disciple arrangement. The scribes and Pharisees were offended — and threatened. Who did this Jesus think he was? And how was he able to back up his teaching with so many signs and wonders? Furthermore, he didn’t talk nice — at least about them. By his words and actions, Jesus challenged the values that had shaped their lives and consolidated their power. In fact he warned his disciples against falling into the pattern of being called “Rabbi,” pointing out that they were all brothers and that he alone was to be their Master and Teacher.
Jesus wasn’t discounting the benefits of learning from the examples or the teaching of others. But he was warning his disciples against following or becoming self-important teachers who led others astray by their focus on externals.
Our call, like that of the disciples, is centered, not on externals, not on adhering to a set of laws or regulations, but on following a person — Jesus. That’s why faith is such an adventure. We are called to keep moving, growing, learning, becoming. We are lifelong disciples, bound to Jesus in a unique way, serving him daily and relying on him to provide for our needs just as the rabbis of old did for their disciples. Today as you seek Rabbi Jesus in prayer, thank him for calling you. Tell him that everything you most want to learn in this life can only be found in him and through him, your Teacher and your Lord.
Meet your spiritual ancestors as they really were: Less Than Perfect: Broken Men and Women of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Them.