It was Grandfather’s Day at the local elementary school, and that inimitable gift of God, a grandson, had staked his claim on me. Other things could be postponed. The real priority that day was Billy. So I found myself sitting in a seat entirely too small for me, in a room smelling of pencil grindings and sweat, surrounded by ten-year-olds and their teachers.

As I looked around and listened, Billy’s classroom sparked memories of my own days in what we used to call “grammar school.” And as I recalled pranks (others’, of course) involving pigtails and inkwells, two important truths came to mind. One was the absolute genius of a good fifth-grade teacher. She seemed to be able to take almost anything from the creation about her and use it for an object lesson. The most commonplace things became the means of opening up the world of knowledge to a child.

A second truth I recalled was the thrill of learning. The light in Billy’s eye and the shine on his face as he shared some of his discoveries with me was enough to bring elation to the toughest old grandfather’s heart. A good teacher can make one see; and when one sees, it is always satisfying.

My return to this wonderful world of chalk dust and times-tables resurrected a line of thought that started long ago and has become more impressive to me as the years have passed: God really must be the fifth-grade teacher of all fifth-grade teachers.

That conviction began when I first tried to dig out a better understanding of the Gospels, particularly John. In these books documenting our Lord’s ministry, Jesus seemed able to find materials anywhere with which to enlighten his hearers: the water drawn from the well to quench their thirst at journey’s ...

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