Why Must the Mentor Die?

mentoringThere is power in story. Story itself expresses our innermost thoughts, our ideals, our fears and angst. Story helps us play out safely what may or may not happen. Story reflects us as a society as a whole. And story has been around since before civilization itself. And in each story, there is a mentor. In each story, there is one who teaches, encourages, helps, guides, and admonishes. The mentor is the one who makes the main protagonist who they are. And then the mentor almost always leaves.

The mentor teaching and subsequent leaving is part of the story and spans space and time and culture.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest known and considered the oldest great work of literature, Gilgamesh is the king of Uruk and oppresses his people. The gods create and send Enkidu to defeat Gilgamesh, instead they become friends. Enkidu, a wild man, teaches Gilgamesh what it means to be a person of integrity, a kind and servant leader. And then Enkindu dies. This changes Gilgamesh and he goes on a journey to become a better person. Enkindu’s death changes him.

Fast forward to the the 1970’s and 80’s with Star Wars. Luke is being taught by Obi-Wan Kenobi, learning the ways of the Force, and in the battle on the Death Star, Obi-Wan gives his life to save Luke and the rest. Now, Obi-Wan comes back all blue and sparkly later, but still, he’s gone. The mentor leaves the student. Luke then is taught and mentored more by Yoda, the epitome of a teacher, who then Luke must leave, and then later Yoda dies at the beginning of Return of the Jedi.

I’ve been reading manga (graphic novels) lately and watching anime. Both originate in Japan. In shonen manga (usually for young men) you see the coming of age story. And even here, there are mentors who then die or leave.

In the Lion King, Mufasa teaches his son, Simba how to be a king. Then, in saving Simba from a rampaging herd of wildebeests, he dies.

The mentor is sometimes a caring friend. The mentor is sometimes an old veteran, a wise man, a teacher, even a blue and sparkly ghost. But all the same, eventually the mentor leaves.


obi wan fighting darth vaderThe main protagonist must venture forward to strive to be like the mentor, to follow the mentor’s teachings, and learn to be like the mentor in the quest in which they are on. And then, somewhere down the line, the student becomes the mentor to a new protagonist, passing down the experience, knowledge, and wisdom of the former mentor. And the cycle continues.

I find it interesting how in the gospels, Jesus is a rabbi. He could have been anything really. God is God and could have sent Jesus as any other type of occupation. In fact, Jesus started off as a carpenter and then traveled as a rabbi. Why? Because a rabbi taught. A rabbi was a mentor. And Jesus takes three years instructing the 12 Disciples on how to be like Him. He takes three years to learn the 12 what it means to emulate Him, live like Him, teach like Him, and even be willing to lay down their lives like Him. And Jesus preapares the 12 Disciples for when He must leave.

But why? Why did Jesus need to leave?

Very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7

Jesus must leave for the Holy Spirit to come. Jesus must leave so that the Holy Spirit may come and dwell in His followers, aiding them in become like the rabbi, like their savior, like Jesus. That is the goal of Jesus’ instructions to the 12.

And when Jesus left, when He died upon the cross, three days later rose victorious from the grave, and 40 days after that ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was given. The Holy Spirit was given so that we are never alone but continue to learn.

It’s funny really. The Apostle John lived the longest. He lived long enough to teach the early church father Polycarp. Polycarp then taught Irenaeus. And the teaching went down the line. As followers of Jesus, we stand in this tradition of teaching, in the teaching of Jesus.

mentoring 1And so, as followers of Jesus, we too must be mentored by fellow believers. We too must be willing to learn from those who came before us. But eventually these mentors will leave. And that’s not bad. They must leave because we as believers must grow and continue on. We must live to reflect on the testament of faith of the great cloud of witnesses that are cheering us on like fans at a football game (have you seen the Sea Hawk’s stadium and fans? Dude).

As we learn what it means to be like Jesus, as we are crafted, molded, and taught and guided by the Holy Spirit, we are also mentored by fellow believers. The time will come then for that mentor to step aside, allow us to grow, and allow us to move from student to teacher, and begin to mentor the next generation. Eventually, we too will step aside to allow them to grow and discover who they are in Jesus. We might move along and mentor someone else, allowing them to mentor someone as well.

All along though, we follow Jesus, His teachings, and who He wants us to be. And we are guided by the Holy Spirit who is molding us into being like Jesus every day. Be willing to be mentored, be willing to grow, and be willing to mentor the next generation.

Who is mentoring you? Who are you mentoring? Who are you allowing to grow?

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