The pedagogy of love

by John Wijngaards, Vidyajyoti September 1987

If we adopt the strategy of allowing people to be really involved as persons, of making them take their own decisions, our pastoral approach will follow new priorities. These will concern areas such as: What should I be doing as a priest, and what can I delegate to others? Should I think up the projects, or should I find out with each community the project they need? Am I going to spend my time mainly on constructing buildings, or in forming people? How can my sermons instruct people regarding responsible decision making and co-responsibility? What can I do to develop the talents of people belonging to my parish ? There is no need for me to spell them out in detail. Once we have adopted the basic new strategy, we will discover implications for ourselves.

It may be helpful to study an example from the Gospel, to see how Jesus himself dealt with people. One such example that strikes me as highly instructive is Jesus cure of the blind man. We find the story narrated at length in John’s Gospel (Jn 9,1-41). Now remember that this blind man had always been really helpless. He was sitting outside the Temple gate, requesting alms. Peonle knew him as a blind beggar.

When Jesus wanted to cure him, he did not open his eyes there and then. Instead, he spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle. Then he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and said: “Go and wash your face in the pool of Siloam!” Now the strange thing is, often overlooked by commentators, that Jesus left the blind man to find his own way to Siloam. Neither he himself nor one of the apostles went along. Jesus wanted the man to make his own decisions: to decide that it was worthwhile trusting Jesus, worthwhile taking the trouble of finding the way to Siloam and washing his face.

Once the man was cured, unexpected new problems arose for him. The Jewish authorities were angry because he had been cured on the sabbath. So he was called before a group of pharisees and scribes. These kept pestering him with questions and refused to accept the story he told. When the man called on his parents for corroboration, these turned away from him. “Ask him himself, he is an adult. He can speak for himself!” So the man had to stand on his own two feet and defend his testimony. And what a magnificent defence he gave! The more the scribes challenged him, the more he started pointing out that Jesus must be from God. Otherwise how could he have done such a miracle?!

Again, we would perhaps have expected Jesus or one of his apostles to stand by, to speak on behalf of this illiterate beggar who had been blind all his life, to defend his cause. But Jesus does not act in this way. He knows that the very process of being challenged and having to defend himself, will make the blind man grow, will help him to be an autonomous Christian. It is only afterwards that Jesus meets him and presents him with a new challenge. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man requires further information-which Jesus gives. Then he freely and happily submits himself to Jesus as a disciple.

Do we not have here a marvellous example of a true strategy of love? Not only did Jesus restore the man’s sight, he also gave him back what he needed most: the sense of his own independence. As a blind beggar he had totally depended on others for almost everythirg. Now Jesus gave him the opportunity to prove his self-worth. He received harsh treatment. He was called a liar, a man born in sin; and eventually banned from the synagogue because of his stubborn opposition to the pharisees. But through this process he became a free, responsible member of Jesus’ kingdom.

This is what Jesus also stated as a general principle. Although he was the Word made flesh, God Incarnate, he did not want to crush our individuality and autonomy. “I do not call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead, I call you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father “(Jn 15,15). In other words: Jesus does not treat us as s,ervants who are simply told what to do; he treats us as friends, because he explains his Father’s will to us and expects us to freely decide to do his bidding. Jesus promises also that as his friends we will give our own individual contribution to his kingdom. “Whoever believes in me will do what I do – yes, he will do even greater things than I did” (Jn 14, 12). By giving us the new inner principles of life and love, each member of the kingdom is like a new Jesus who can honour the Father by doing the same things Jesus did. “My Father’s glory is shown by your bearing much fruit” (Jn. 15,8). It is as mature, autonomous Christians by taking decisions inspired by love, that we will produce fruit pleasing to the Father.

Self definition of a Christian

Pysychologists have made a study of what “mature persons” are like. They list fourteen characteristics (A. H. Maslow) which present quite an accurate and complete description. Notice how in almost every single item of this list, the ability to take responsible, personal decisions is presupposed. Autonomous decision making is an essential part of being a fully developed person. Just study this list:

1, More efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it. Mature persons judge situations and people accurately. On the whole they don’t feel threatened and frightened by the unknown. They do not, like immature people, show a catastrophic need for certainty, safety. definiteness and order

2. Acceptance of self, others, nature. They are at home with nature and with human nature. They accept bodily needs and natural processes without disgust or shame, but also appreciate the “higher” qualities that help make up human nature.

3. Spontaneity. Mature persons can appreciate art, good times, and zestful living. The mature person is not weighed down by conventionality but can capture peak experiences’ of living easily.

4. Problem centering. Mature persons work effectively and with persistence at objective tasks. They can lose themselves in authentic problems without being preoccupied with themseIves.

5. Detachment. Self-actualizing people have a need for privacy and for self-sufficiency. Their friendships and their attachments to family are not of the clinging, intrusive, and possessive variety.

6. Independence of culture and environment. Closely related is the ability to take or to leave idols of the market place. Neither flattery nor criticism disturbs their fundamental course of development.

7. Continued freshness of appreciation. Here again we encounter an aspect of spontaneity and responsiveness to new experience. Mature persons are open to learning new things, to looking at the world around them with new eyes.

8. Limitless horizons. Mature people will be concerned with the ultimate nature of reality. This feature is characterised as “mystical” or “oceanic”. it’s the religious factor in maturity. In the religion of the weak the personality figure that dominates is the ‘dependent Child’; the main motivaticn is fear. In rnature people the ‘spontaneous Child’, inspired by wonder, awe and joy plays a bigger role.

9. Social feeling. They have a basic feeling of “identification, sympathy, and affection” in spite of occasional anger or impatience. Compassion for one’s fellow mortals seems to be an earmark of maturity.

10. Deep but selective social relationships. Complementing the attribute of “detachment” we find self-actualizing people capable of unusually close personal attachments, with their own egos more or less obliterated. The circle of close attachments may be small, but even surface relationships outside this orbit are handled smoothly and with !ittle friction.

11. Democratic character structure. Mature people generally feel respect for and show respect to any human being just because he or she is a human individual. Many studies have shown that ethnic and religious tolerance is associated with other features of maturity.

12. Ethical certainty. -Mature people are sure about the difference between right and wrong in daily living. Expressed differently, they do not confuse means with ends and hold firmly to the pursuing of ends felt by themselves to be right.

13. Unhostile sense of humor. Punning, joking, and hostile wit are found less often than “thoughtful philosophical humor which elicits a smile more usually than a laugh, which is intrinsic to the situation rather than added to it, which is spontaneous rather than planned, and which very often can never be repeated.”

14 Creativeness. This has rightly been called a summary characteristic which is an unfailing attribute of mature people. Without exception, their style of living has a certain strength and individuality that puts an impress upon whatever they do, be it writing, composing, shoemaking, or housework.

This is a description drawn up by secular psychologists. In a strange way, I find it also a very good description of Jesus’ own character. If we compare the way Jesus thought and acted and related to people, with the behaviour of the Jewish authorities at the time, we see how he emerges as a truly mature and autonomous person. As a human being Jesus became what he was by the decisions he took. He crowned his own life on earth by the most difficult and the most beautiful decision of all: by laying down his life for us. ”No one takes my life away from me. I give it up of my own free will. I have the right to give it up and I have the right to take it back” (Jn 10,18). “The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them” (Jn 15,13). Is this not the autonomy we should foster in ourselves and in people entrusted to us? Allowing others to grow at our expense, does mean a kind of dying for us; but it is the kind that brings new life.

Books consulted for this section:

A. H. MASLOW, Motivation and Personality, Harper, New York 1954.

M. JAHODA, Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health, Basic Books. New York 1958

G. W. ALLPORT, Pattern and Growth in Personality, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, London 1963.