Throughout the gospels, Jesus is repeatedly described as a teacher. Given the number of references to his teaching activity, you might be tempted to think of him as a college professor leading his students through a graduate-level degree program – something beyond the grasp of the ordinary man or woman on the street.
But such an image would not do justice to his teachings or to the nature of his students. For the most part, his primary audience was made up of people from the lower socio-economic classes. Those from the richer, more highly educated classes were usually his most vigorous opponents – the one’s primarily responsible for putting him to death. His message was basically quite simple: “The Reign of God is arriving, even as we speak!” The rest of his teaching involved illustrating that fact with down-to-earth stories, and demonstrating to people how they could recognize, experience and participate in that new way of life that God makes possible for everyone. He didn’t need a classroom, a textbook, or an expensive curriculum, but only the time necessary to get to know him and to engage him in some in-depth conversation. His goal was to offer people a richer relationship to God, not an intellectual body of knowledge – a changed life, not an academic degree.
Today, we tend to turn his profoundly simple approach into something much more complicated. We make his way of life into an education program – something we know about, rather than something we practice. Instead of coming together to talk about the opportunities and challenges of living each day in response to God’s love, we offer courses for acquiring information about the Bible.
The Church’s job is not to run programs and provide answers to unanswerable questions, but to share our unique adventures on this life-long journey into the Mystery of God’s love. It’s to invite others to let Jesus lead them into the heart of each moment, discovering God’s redeeming presence in even the most painful or demanding situations. We can’t explain all God’s ways to everyone’s satisfaction, but only acknowledge the miracles of mercy and resurrection revealed even in the somber tragedies we may have to endure.
The Church’s gift to the world isn’t knowledge or information, but joy and wonder. That’s what Jesus is still trying to teach us. And no matter how old we are, those are lessons we never stop needing to learn.