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THE MASTER IN THE BIBLE

Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Msgr. Gianfranco Ravasi

 

Summary

Introduction: the ambiguity and the value of the magisterium

I. The Old Testament parable of teaching

1. Primacy of the theophany

The (three) places of the theophany

2. Man, teacher

a) The father to the child

b) The priests-prophets-wise men

c) Global pedagogy

II. Jesus, Divine Master

1. The portrait of Jesus Master

2. The seven qualities of Christ Master

III. The teaching Church

Conclusion

INTRODUCTION:
THE AMBIGUITY AND THE VALUE OF THE MAGISTERIUM

Our discourse, done in a very schematic manner, shall be a simple itinerary open within the inside of a thematic horizon of thousands and thousands of facets and aspects.

The figure of the "master" in the Bible is of great relevance, above all when we examine some literary areas of the Old Testament. Also within the New, the figure of the didāskalos is of relevance. Nonetheless, at the outset, we have to immediately say that the term "master" and the very figure of the "master" can have in themselves elements that are at risk. Let us think of the Hebrew word itself, with which the "master" is defined: rabbi.

Rabbi is a term ambiguous by certain aspects. In fact, literally it means "my great" (from rav, great, powerful). Hence it is a prestige title. It is a component that also belongs to other languages: the Latin magister means one who is "magis", that is, one having more, one superior to others; and the French maître is "lord", and hence as such is lord of others. Thus one succeeds to understand an expression of Mt 23:8-10: "As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one didāskalos (teacher), and you are all brothers. Do not be called kathegetāi." ‘Kathegetāi’ is a word translated by the Vulgate as masters. In reality the term in Greek means: he who guides, he who indicates the way, the path. Why should not be called kathegetāi? Because "only one is your kathegetāi," your guide.

We have then to make this prior consideration: the master’s activity is a risky activity, which could comport the arrogance of power and a despicable superiority. This aspect was precisely the scribes’, the masters by excellence, who "despised this people that does not know either the law or the prophets." In this sense one could be master-lord, teacher of death, in the end.

The master, however, has also a great value; he is a positive figure of great relevance. And he is first of all and above all Christ who teaches us how to be true teachers. A capital passage in the Gospel of John witnesses to this (Jn 13:13-15): "You call me ho didāskalos kāi ho kyrios, and rightly so, for indeed I am". Christ therefore accepts, for himself, both the titles, both the dimensions of the word rabbi: didāskalos, master, and kyrios, lord. Immediately after, however, comes the manner for becoming true teachers and masters: "If I, therefore, ho kyrios kāi ho didāskalos, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet." More: "As I have done for you, you should do also." The authentic path of the true ministry of teaching, of true magisterium, is that of service and of self-dedication.

Jesus intentionally connects to kyrios and to didāskalos authoritative titles, the gesture of the washing of the feet: this is an act that, in the biblical, Hebrew, world, could not be imposed even to a slave. In an apocryphal story, Joseph and Aseneth, a popular story which takes the cue from the story of Joseph the Egyptian of Genesis, the woman, Joseph’s spouse says, "For the love of you, I am ready also to wash your feet." It is a supreme and extreme gesture of love, to be a slave of another, in self-giving. Jesus says: the kyrios, the authentic didāskalos is so when he makes himself a slave, when he gives as gift his wisdom and does not use it as an instrument of power.

Of this magisterium as service on the part of Jesus, let us underline three examples taken from the gospels.

— Mk 4:38 (at the tragic moment of the storm): "Teacher (and here there also is the theme of ‘lord’ under this title), do you not care that we are perishing?" The master has to worry about the life of the disciple.

— Lk 17:13 (the ten lepers): "Jesus, Master (epistāta, that is, he who stands erect before someone else, the true position of the lord and of the master)! Have pity on us!" Proximity, not distance, characterizes the true master.

— Lk 11:1: "Lord (kyrios), teach us to pray". Here is another role of service in teaching: spiritual service.

Two observations to conclude this introduction: the first is drawn from Paul in 1 Cor 12:28 and Eph 4:11: "Some people God has designated to be… teachers." It is therefore proper to be called ‘masters,’ if one is truly so with the spirit of service. Otherwise, one is lord. It is not therefore contradictory to attribute to one’s self the name master, as what Fr. Alberione did, when he had himself called "Primo Maestro," and as what Paul also did: "I was appointed preacher and apostle and teacher" (of the gospel) (2 Tim 1:11).

Second consideration. There also are false teachers, precisely because of that ambiguity we have pointed out: those who are not at the service of the communication of life and of truth, but are instead at the service of themselves. The deutero-Pauline writings above all speak of these false teachers with insistence and toughness (cf. 2 Tim 4:3; 2 Pt 2:1ff). There is then also a dark horizon in the same Christianity of the origins regarding magisterium. This is a very strong temptation. Perhaps also present in us is the hybris of the "master" who despises, who conditions others, who is lord. The rabbi is, then, no longer "my master" but "my lord and my powerful one."

Naturally this risk is present especially when one has in hand ever more sophisticated means of communication. Because communication today, for example through the hegemonous means that is television, is often a way of teaching which is lording over another, being a master to another, conditioning of the other, often more for death than for life. (return to summary)

Continued: The Old Testament parable of teaching

 

           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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