What Are the Four Choices?

One of the earmarks of truth is its applicability in contexts beyond that truth’s initial setting. The more often a thing remains true regardless of its context, the more true that thing is. For example, let’s consider the Parable of the Sower (The Gospel According to St. Mark 4:1-20).

The occasion of this parable is remarkable in Scripture. In it, Jesus tells a crowd a story about a farmer scattering seeds. Later in private, the Apostles ask Jesus what he meant, and Jesus explains the parable’s meaning to the Apostles alone. Obviously, the Apostles shared what Jesus told them in private, otherwise Mark, who was not one of the Twelve, could not have recorded the explanation, but this incident points to the reality of authentic apostolic teaching passed on orally but never written down. In other words, it points to Sacred Tradition.

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus explains the four responses to truth that a person might make. Implicit in Jesus’ explanation to the Apostles are two main points:

  1. The primary responsibility for my response to truth rests with me.
  2. The circumstances of my life affect my response to truth.

If we divorce the parable from its Christian purpose, the truth of the parable does not change. It remains an accurate examination of human behavior and psychology. I see this truth every day with my students. When I turn my powers of perception toward myself, I see this truth in my own behavior as well.

In the parable, the seed that is sown is the word of God. It is the truth that leads to salvation. Like all truth, it imposes obligations. Accepting the truth means setting my own will, my own desires, aside insofar as those desires conflict with the truth. If I refuse to conform my actions to the truth, then I live a lie.

So, what does this have to do with teaching? Well, at a basic level, it reminds me that every time I ask my students to do something, they have four courses of action open to them.

Course one involves defiance. The student hears what I’m saying, knows what he’s supposed to do, and refuses to do it. He makes a conscious choice to disobey. Courses two and three are similar to each other. On either path, the student chooses obedience, and he starts out intending to do what he’s told. He may even be enthusiastic about the task, but he still falls short of the mark. Along one way, difficulties arise. The task turns out to be harder than anticipated, and the student gives up or phones it in. Along the other way, worries and distractions turn into obstacles. Students who end up on these two paths do not complete their task, or complete the task with a minimum of commitment to their best efforts.

A student who chooses the fourth way does what he is told to the best of his ability. He may not end up doing as well as the student sitting next to him, but he completes the task, and he can justly be proud of his efforts even when room for improvement remains. The fourth-way student experiences difficulties. He has worries and encounters distractions, but these difficulties, worries, and distractions do not keep him from reaching his goal.

In all times at all places, we ought to strive to be fourth-way students.


Mark L. Chance
Mark L. Chance
Mark L. Chance, a Catholic convert who married his lovely wife almost 30 years ago, is the father of four children. He serves as the 7th and 8th grade English teacher in a Catholic school for boys, where he also leads the “Knights of the Mightier Pen” and “Ludi Fabularum: Games of Stories” after-school clubs. Mark has taught in public and private schools since 1996, and he holds a B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. Prior to teaching, Mark served eight years in the U.S. Army. In his spare time, Mark reads about educational philosophy and writes about table-top roleplaying games, all while occasionally sipping on bourbon.

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  1. Great article Mark, and a world of truth in every sentence. I miss teaching high school students, where I would propose scenarios and thought provoking questions to them, leading with….What would be your choices to things that deal with your faith and belief system.