The Pauline spirituality is scripturally based, a synthesis of some of the richest passages in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels and the Pauline letters. Beginning with the disciples’ initial experience of Jesus as “Teacher” or “Master” in the Gospel, Father Alberione chose the word “Master” to describe the personal and unique relationship Jesus has with each of his disciples. However, the term “master” has some negative associations that may make it seem unattractive; for example, master versus slave. The connotations of this usage are ownership, lordship, domination, and abusive power over others. But Jesus overturns our understanding of mastery and power in a stunning reversal: “You call me ‘The Teacher’ and ‘The Lord,’ and rightly so, because I am. If I, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you, too, ought to wash each other’s feet” (John 13:13–14).
Jesus gave the term “master” a whole new meaning. Jesus is Master in order to serve. His lordship over us empowers us to live with the dignity of children of God. Jesus has definitively revealed the Father’s love to us and committed himself to us. Through Jesus, we receive the full freedom and dignity of friendship with God. The mastery of Jesus Christ is that of perfect, complete, unconditional love. As our true Master, Jesus is the One who gives the deepest meaning to our lives, and we are his inasmuch as we were loved into being through him, he died to save us, and he constantly reveals his loving care for us.
This new meaning of the term “master” can be enriched by two other familiar connotations, the most immediate of which is “teacher.”
A teacher or master in the fullest sense does not just teach about one subject. A teacher’s greatest impact on a student is the witness of his or her life, combined with the personal care and attention given to the student. Think of Yoda guiding Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, or Robin Williams as a high school teacher in Dead Poets Society. Such a mentor shares not only knowledge, but values and attitudes that will ultimately change the student’s life.
The Divine Master’s preaching constantly invites hearers of all times to a change of heart. But Jesus transforms the lives of his disciples above all by his relationship with them: the invitation to a very special intimacy with himself and with the Father.
Besides being understood as teacher, the term “master” can also be understood as guide. The ideal guide is an expert in a particular field who helps those following to reach the goal both safely and effectively. Think how invaluable a tour guide can be to those sightseeing in an unfamiliar country, or how irreplaceable the guidance of a coach when one is developing an artistic or athletic skill. As the ideal guide, Jesus does not just point us in a certain direction and leave it at that, but he is also a model. Jesus has walked the way himself and now accompanies us on every step of our journey, in both joyful and painful times.
Therefore, we understand Jesus as Master in light of the new meaning that Jesus himself gave to the term: Jesus is Master in the sense of servant, empowering the disciples to live in the fullness of freedom and love. Jesus Master still accompanies disciples of all time throughout their lives, teaching us through his Word, but even more by the witness of his life, his love for us, his guiding presence; in other words, by his relationship with us. As disciples, we share both in his life and in his call to serve.
by Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP