For a disciple, time in the teacher’s presence is vital, because it is in his presence that the disciple learns to do what the teacher does. You could compare the disciple to the modern day apprentice. Some things are taught in an apprenticeship because they are best learned in the field alongside a master. We could learn about building a house or wiring a home in a classroom. We could probably learn about these things by reading a book, attending a seminar, watching a video, or listening to a podcast, but none of these methods match the depth of learning experienced in an apprenticeship.
The apprentice learns directly from a master in the midst of real life as he watches the master in action. The classroom is sanitary, but the real world is messy. The apprentice has the opportunity to observe the master responding to the unexpected, the bumps, and the messiness of real life.
These same characteristics are present in the relationship of the rabbi and his disciples. The rabbi’s disciple learns from him in the midst of everyday life, not the classroom. He doesn’t tell his students how to live; he shows them. He doesn’t teach about theoretical pain. He teaches in the midst of pain. He doesn’t teach about dealing with an imaginary enemy, he demonstrates it as he responds to an enemy.
There is a saying in the Mishnah that reads, “Let your home be a meeting-house for the sages, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.” In the first century a rabbi might travel from town to town teaching in people’s homes. The roads they walked were dry and dirty, so their feet had a tendency to get caked with dust.
This blessing encourages the reader to sit at the rabbi’s feet as he teaches, drinking in his words as if they were water to a dry and thirsty soul. But what if we take the meaning a little further? What if the dust on his feet is a metaphor for the long and many roads he has walked in his life. What if the dust represents the experiences and lessons he has learned as he journeyed with God? In other words, could the dust of the rabbi’s feet represent his life and his wisdom? This is the essence of intentional discipleship, taking on the character of Jesus as we walk closely with him.