Mark 10:17-31 – The journey of learning by questioning

John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka recently shared the award of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 for their work in enabling mature cells to be transformed into immature stem cells.  This work has been underway for many years and the research has been the basis of my arguments in opposing embryonic stem cell research.  We do not need to destroy human life to repair the lives of others.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box now, feeling truly vindicated by empirical research.  What I wanted to point out is not simply the ability to convert mature cells into immature stem cells, but the history of the British researcher, Sir John Gurdon.  According to the English Telegraph Newspaper, Gurdon’s teacher at Eton, Mr Gaddam wrote in his 1949 end-of-term school report,

It would be “a sheer waste of time” for Gurdon to pursue a career in science. He wouldn’t listen, couldn’t learn simple biological facts and “insisted on doing work in his own way”. In one test, Gurdon scored a miserable two out of 50.

I get this.  School was always a constant struggle for me.  It wasn’t until I got to theological college that I understood a part of the problem.  Firstly, I had been studying the wrong subjects – I am much more of a humanities person than I am a science person.  I should have been studying history and sociology rather than mathematics, physics, chemistry and agricultural science.  The second realisation was that school was an experience of being told what I needed to learn rather than answer the questions that I had.

Whatever field we choose to study, I am convinced we will learn more when we are answering the questions we have.  As soon as I realised this, I was able to undertake post graduate studies.  I often wonder what my teachers from the selective government agricultural high school I attended would think of me, who failed the higher school certificate, and now has a doctorate.

Another thing I discovered while I was at theological college was different approaches to how we educate.  I was terrified of doing religious education in school, so I chose to do two semesters, a whole year, on the principles and practices of education, taught by a Roman Catholic nun.  Two basic approaches: inductive, that is, the student being taught what the teacher believes they need to know – much of my experience at school, a failure it seems – and deductive, that is, the student discovering what they need to know, guided by the teacher – for me a much more successful process of education.

Education is, I would think, more complicated than these two descriptors.  Educators use a term ‘pedagogy’ literally meaning ‘to lead a child’ to describe the theory of education.

I have answers to my questions, questions that I have asked myself in the past and worked out.  If someone asks me a question, I am more than likely able to give an answer, and for you who have asked, you know that my answers are usually long and convoluted because I like to dot my theological ‘i’s’ and cross my theological ‘t’s’.  The problem with this, of course, is you will never be able to remember all that I have said.  Even so, you may remember it as fact, but it is not rooted in your own belief.  As someone once said, we remember a small percentage of what we are told, we remember a bigger percentage of what we see, but remember most of what we experience.  Better, then, to guide you in finding the answer for yourself.

I have always loved the way the bible describes Jesus’ teaching method and I try to apply it.  The gospel reading for today is a case in example.  Jesus is setting out on a journey.  I can’t help wondering whether Mark used this word ‘journey’ not only to describe travelling from one place to another, but may also mean ‘to emerge’.  Mark is introducing us to a learning experience.  Our faith is not an intellectual exercise of learning facts, but of a journey of discovery of who God is and who we are in God.

The young man asks Jesus a question and, as I said, I like the way Jesus teaches, his response is to ask a question in return, ‘Why do you call me good?’  The effect of this is that it creates a mini crisis, a moment when the learner is taken out of the comfort zone of what they know and understand.  Has this young man ever asked this question before?  What does it mean to be good?  So now Jesus presses him for his understanding of goodness.  Is goodness related to the law?  Note he does not mention the law questions that relate to God, but the laws that concern the way we are to relate to other human beings.  The young man claims he has kept them.  Again Jesus challenges his comfort zone of knowing, how have you kept them, he is effectively asking.  ‘Go and sell all you have and give to the poor, then you will have what you are looking for.’  This is an invitation to shift from the religion of law to the religion of relationship.  The answer is too difficult for the young man and he goes away sad.

What is he rich about?  Is it is money and his possessions?  Or is it his wealth in the security of what he knows.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to be what discipleship means, that is, to be a learner.  This man cannot be a disciple because he is unwilling to enter into the journey of faith that is discipleship.  This experience causes the disciples to ask questions also.  The comparison of the responses is highlighted in Peter’s words, ‘we have left everything and followed you.’

As Job reminds us, in the crisis of all that has befallen him, he is to learn from God, something his wife and friends did not understand,

I would lay my case before him,

   and fill my mouth with arguments.

I would learn what he would answer me,

   and understand what he would say to me.

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?

   No; but he would give heed to me. Job 23:4-6

I make no apology for the shift in thinking about the model our house groups, and all our activities, are taking.  If we are to disciple our younger generation we must adapt our discipleship style.  The leaders of our house groups are to be facilitators, or guides, of the learning experience and are themselves continuing to learn.  Learning must be more concerned with observing and participating in the faith, it is an experienced faith, not a faith based on provable facts.  It must be spontaneous and inspired by the questions of those what are participating, not by the agenda of the leader.  In its spontaneity, it will happen in the midst of conversation and, as we know, such conversations happen when people sit around a table and share food.

I commend to you this kind of discipleship, this kind of following Jesus.

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