Anyone involved with one of our schools knows how powerful professional development and retreat experiences can be for a school community prior to the start of the school year. Everything is fresh and new. Possibilities abound. Aspirations and dreams are fueled by a prayerful imagination. Concerns and fears are countered with a shameless audacity. Most importantly, we know we are not alone as we are emboldened by seasoned colleagues and joined by new colleagues.
In preparation for the school year now underway, I facilitated retreats for faculty and staff of two member schools. At the St. James School in Philadelphia, we gathered in the chapel for morning prayer led by Andrew Kellner, the school’s chaplain, who read from the end of Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John:
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.
This reading led into an interesting reflection as to what “options” Judas had in this situation. Could Judas have shed the ‘devil’ label and surprised Jesus later by not betraying him? Could he have weighed his options and chosen differently?
Now it can be well-argued that Jesus had deep insight into Judas’ heart, mind and soul that we do not have with those we encounter on an almost daily basis, such as students in the classroom, teachers in the school, or partners in the greater community. We also may not know the full account of the conversations and redirects that Jesus may already have had with Judas over time to alter his ‘fixed mindset.’ Most likely, Jesus knew personally that neither he nor others could persuade Judas any differently at this point and that what was to unfold was the only route forward.
Nonetheless, Jesus’ response and message to the Twelve is perplexing. As educators, especially as we begin a new year with a clean slate, we think the best of each person even when we know there is much to focus on otherwise. Even when it seems inevitable that an individual will make a disastrous decision with tough consequences, we continue to narrate a different possibility and offer and encourage positive, redeeming, dignified options that lead to growth and liberation rather than decay and defeat.
Unfortunately our students and families are often stuck in failed systems and faced with hopeless situations in which all options are unjust. At the retreats we read an excerpt from Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted in which he depicts families who are caught in the vicious cycle of eviction: “First, the landlord would summon the sheriff, who would arrive with a gun, a team of movers, and a judge’s order saying the house was no longer hers. Then [the tenant] would be given two options: ‘truck’ or ‘curb.’ ‘Truck’ meant that her things would be loaded into an eighteen footer and checked into bonded storage. … ‘Curb’ meant that the movers would pile everything onto the sidewalk.” It should not be an option for our society to accept these options for our children and our response should be immediate and urgent or another generation of children will be trapped in defeat.
We can advocate for a more just society with systems that serve the best interest of families and children by modelling this in our schools In NativityMiguel Schools, we take the time to understand the options that comprise each moment, day, week and year for our faculty, staff, students and families and the impact that those options have on their growth, learning and development. We are determined that each educated person is capable of making the right decision if given reasonable options and the appropriate love and care.
Each year, a new class of students is welcomed into our schools, and in many ways, each new class is similar to ‘The Twelve.’ We know there will be difficult days of doubt and frustration with one of the Twelve or even all of the Twelve when our perception and our heart is most tested. On these days Jesus’ human response may resonate with us as we take comfort by faulting ‘the devil.’ Yet, we are also reminded that all are invited into a world that is graced by the holy presence of God. We do not exist in a world of decay and defeat, we exist in God’s love and it is through that love that our next step, word and action flows if we are to bear the good news that each one of us is capable of our best self in a just world.