A boy walking to school one morning came upon an irresistible temptation: a freshly poured section of cement in the sidewalk. The boy bent down and began writing his name with his finger—just as the construction worker who had poured the cement returned. The man grabbed the boy and shouted, “Why are you spoiling my work?” The frightened child stammered something about just wanting to have his name in the ground. The worker suddenly released him and asked softly, “What’s your name, son?”
“Robert,” the boy answered. “Well, Robert,” said the man, “the sidewalk is no place for your name. You go to that school and work and study hard, and you’ll make a name for yourself to be proud of.” After pausing a moment, the worker asked, “Robert, what do you want to be when you grow up?” The boy replied, “A writer, I think.” The man exclaimed, “A writer! All right then, be a writer—be a real writer! Have your name on books, not this sidewalk.” As the worker bent down to smooth out the damaged cement, he said again, “Be a writer!” Robert never forgot this encounter, and in fact he grew up to become a successful journalist and author (Homily Notebook, “Education”).
Just as young Robert stopped to do something foolish and thoughtless when he should have been on his way to school, so there are many persons in the world today who let themselves be distracted from what’s truly important. Too many people try to make a name for themselves by living according to the false values of the world, seeking to appear important and sophisticated and successful. This, however, is like writing one’s name in a sidewalk—a sidewalk which will eventually crack and decay and crumble. Spiritual values are the ones that last, and these are written in our hearts. True wisdom and knowledge come from learning not the ways of the world, but the ways of God.
In the Holy Scriptures, we often encounter aspects of education. For example, in the Gospel of Luke (1:1-4; 4:14-21) we are informed that Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, went about the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues—the Jewish houses of prayer and study. In the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus read the passage from the prophet Isaiah which announced glad tidings to the lowly, liberty to captives, and release to prisoners; then, in His role as true Teacher, He stated, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Those who were willing to accept Jesus learned the truth about God and about themselves; they were no longer imprisoned in error and doubt. God doesn’t want us to remain in ignorance and confusion; He sends us teachers—primarily His Son, but others as well. Similarly, in the Old Testament reading from Nehemiah (8:2-6, 10) and in the Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:12-30) we see the people of Israel being instructed by Ezra, Nehemiah, and other religious leaders while St. Paul includes teachers as an essential element in the Body of Christ. None of us can truly claim to be wise unless we’re humble enough to continue learning and growing in our faith; indeed, on one occasion Jesus said, “Learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
When it comes to worldly things, many of us are quite knowledgeable, and are perhaps even experts. In our midst, there are surely those who could give us a thorough description of what this year’s fashions and styles will be like. There’s also probably someone who can speak very shrewdly about the current political situation in Washington D.C. while yet another person has expert knowledge on the economy and whether it’s a good time to refinance a home mortgage.
There’s nothing wrong with knowing these things; they definitely have their place—but in terms of eternity, they’re really no more valuable or lasting than tracing our names in wet cement. We must also learn, practice, and value those things which pertain to faith and which prepare us for membership in God’s Kingdom. Just as the people in the synagogue at Nazareth looked intently at Jesus, so we must strive to discover and recognize Him amid the many duties and distractions of daily life. There are many interesting things about life and about the world in which we live—but they’re all temporary. We’re called to become well-educated and wise in the ways of God—for His Kingdom alone will last forever.