By this time in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is well-known as a rabbi-teacher.
His teaching methods are varied…
Sometimes he shares a proverb:
“Many who are first will be last and the last first” (Mark 10:31);
“If salt loses its saltiness, what will you season it with?” (Mark 9:50; Matt 5:13)
Sometimes he shares a parable, a story:
“There was a man who had two sons….”
“A farmer went out to sow his seed….”
Sometimes his teaching is straightforward – more like a lecture:
“When you pray, pray like this…” he says.
And sometimes his teaching comes in response to a question meant to trap him,
“Teacher, our law says this woman caught in adultery should be stoned. What do you say?”
or today’s example:
“Teacher, Tell us then, what you think, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
He is a teacher who varies his teaching methods depending on the audience…
and he has multiple audiences because he is an itinerant teacher…
wandering from place to place.
I’m told by my sister that being an itinerant teacher is difficult.
For years she travelled from class to class,
with her little cart full of books;
borrowing desk space and bulletin boards;
and even having to borrow a room in which to keep kids after school.
When Jesus laments, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,”
Jesus is an itinerant teacher.
The gospels are full of his travels.
In the gospel of Mark,
Jesus starts out in Capernaum and then moves
to neighboring villages
and then throughout Galilee.
He travels to the Sea of Galilee,
along its shores, across the sea into what was called the Decapolis
(present day Jordan and Syria)
and back again.
He moves from place to place more than 40 times in Mark!
Jesus climbs a mountain in Matthew to teach the Sermon on the Mount;
and he walks down into a valley in Luke to teach the Sermon on the Plain.
Jesus teaches in fields, by trees, on boats,
by the sea, in the temple, by a well,
on the Mount of Olives, on mountaintops, in valleys,
and just about everywhere he goes.
So why does he move around so much?
During that time period, most rabbis, most teachers did not travel.
Respectable teachers were well-known in Judaism.
These teachers attracted students who came to them,
not the other way around.
Even John the Baptist stayed put in the Judean desert,
teaching the followers who came to him.
So what made Jesus different?
His travels gained him some criticism and even created some embarrassment.
The 2nd century Greek philosopher Celsus
(who wrote about the same time as the authors of the gospels)
declared that Jesus was a disgrace
for traveling around with his disciples in that way! (Origen, Cels. 1.65)
Celsus cynically claimed that Jesus and his disciples moved around so much
because they needed to hide from their opponents.
Is that why Jesus traveled as he taught?
To hide from people?
The gospel writers share their own ideas about why Jesus traveled.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus has to move around because of his enormous success.
There are so many people coming to hear him,
that he has to leave town.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is moving,
because he has a definite destination in mind.
In Luke, Jesus takes a long journey – a pilgrimage
toward his destination of Jerusalem.
In contrast to Mark, it takes him chapters and chapters and chapters to get there.
There are many reasons I think that Jesus became a traveling teacher.
One was precisely because he was different from the other teachers of the law.
His lifestyle relying on the generosity of others for his food and shelter
made him a bit of an eccentric – an outsider himself,
and how better share the love of God to outsiders than to be one himself?
There was another benefit to traveling I think…
by traveling with them, Jesus solidified the message for his disciples.
There was no mass media of course;
learning was passed on largely by mouth.
By traveling with him for those 3 years,
the disciples could hear the same message over and over again.
(And from the gospel accounts, it seems they needed it!)
But the main reason I think Jesus traveled
is that it allowed him to speak to people who would not have heard him otherwise.
When teaching was confined to the synagogue or to the teacher’s home,
it was very easy to restrict who could hear.
And the teachers did restrict learning:
to men and those in the upper classes of society.
Outdoors – it was not so easy to control learning.
By teaching in the open,
women were able to hear Jesus.
By teaching in the open,
lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, widows, and the poor were able to hear him.
By teaching in the open and going to Gentile cities such as Tyre and Sidon, Caesarea Philippi, and the Decapolis,
non-Jews were able to hear him.
Jesus went out to meet the people in the world where they lived,
and his message spread.
As we explore St. James’ vision statement:
“Forgiven and invited to live and love like Jesus,”
– might we consider what it would mean for us to live and love more like this itinerant teacher?
– this Jesus who went out to meet the people in the world where they lived,
instead of waiting for them to come to him?
Could we imagine such a traveling church?
There’s an urban legend about bank robber Willie Sutton…
He was once asked why he stole from banks…
His answer was, “Because that’s where the money is!”
Why did Jesus travel?
Because that’s where the people were!
I doubt Jesus would change his tactics today and sit in the sanctuary
waiting for people to come to him.
I think he’d still be on the road.
Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church,” is subtitled “Growing Faith Where Life Happens.”
His theme is that if we want to spread the gospel message today,
if we want to connect with people who have not heard,
we need to get on the road too;
we need to go where they are – where life happens.
Could we imagine a church where we go out to where the people are
yes, in fields, by trees, on boats,
but also in the Starbucks or Ragged Edge, at the Pub or the Pike?
What if there was Vacation Bible School at the Rec Park
and a Bible study at the senior center?
What would happen if there was a house church on W. Middle Street and one in Twin Oaks and one in Woodcrest and one at Lake Heritage?
What if there was a weekly theological conversation at the Pike?
Jesus didn’t wait for people to come to him;
he went out to meet them.
Jesus was an itinerant teacher.
May we be such an itinerant church!