We started our class by talking about effective ways to teach. They listed parables, example, object lessons, speaking at the level of the students and discussion. (Last week while I was gone, they talked about parables - using specific examples from the Gospels to show how Jesus taught.) I then told them those were important things and that learning how to teach more effectively using Jesus as an example is important, but I explained that we were going to focus on Jesus himself and becoming like him in a more literal sense.
I asked them how we can learn about someone. After some discussion, we narrowed it down to three things: what is written or said about the person (a description of some sort by others), characteristics or attributes they model and/or teach, and what they do (their actions). I told them we would focus on learning how to become like Jesus by focusing on each of those "study methods", in that order.
I asked them what we know about Jesus, in broad terms - like a timeline:
He was born in Bethlehem. Probably around the age of 12-24 months, his family fled Bethlehem and moved to Egypt. A few years later, after Herod's death, they moved to Nazareth. At the age of 12, his family traveled to Jerusalem, where he surprised educated people at the temple. (Note: There is no indication that Jesus was "teaching" anyone, as is commonly believed. The verses say he was "hearing them and asking them questions" and that they were "astonished at his understanding and answers".) The next 18 years are summed up in Luke 2:51, which says:
Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.
We broke that verse down word-by-word, since I believe it is one of the least understood Biblical verses in all of Christianity.
"Increased" means he "gained or acquired more", and what he gained or acquired was "wisdom" (learning, understanding, ability to apply) and "stature" (size). Thus, Jesus learned things (just like we all learn things) and grew up. He also increased in "favor" (standing, rank, acceptance - especially compared to others) - and that increase was with both God and other people. We talked about what it means to be a "favorite" and how "favor" in this usage implies comparison to others. We then talked about how Jesus could increase in favor with God, especially if he was God's only begotten son AND if he was the God of the Old Testament before he was born.
We talked about the common misunderstanding of what it means to be "sinless" - and I mentioned again my dislike of the following song lines:
"The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes, but little Lord, Jesus, no crying he makes."
"He never got vexed when the game went wrong, and he always told the truth."
In the Primary Sacrament Meeting program, one of the children gave a short talk in which he said that Jesus never made any mistakes. I told the students that I understand the need to teach very young children in simplistic terms, but that being sinless does NOT mean never making mistakes. We talked about transgressions being mistakes made in ignorance - things we do that are wrong but not against our understanding or conscience, then we talked about sins being things we do in opposition to our own consciences. Thus, a sin for one person isn't necessarily a sin for someone else. One person's sin often is another person's transgression. If, therefore, Jesus increased in wisdom AND in favor with God and man, he could have made mistakes and "transgressed" some element of eternal law (like lying as a young child) without "sinning" (violating his conscience and understanding).
With this as the baseline, becoming like Jesus does NOT mean never making mistakes (even transgressions) but rather trying not to act in opposition to one's conscience - which, instructively, we call "the light of Christ".
We then moved to what he is said to have taught - focusing on the Gospels (since they are all we have of his purported words during mortality) and, particularly, the Sermon on the Mount - in order to see what he identified as the characteristics and attributes of godliness (or "blessedness", to use the exact word). I told them again about my three-year focus on understanding and living better the characteristics and attributes listed in the Sermon on the Mount and how badly I wished I had started that focus when I was their age rather than when I was in my 40's.
We talked about being "poor in spirit" - and we focused on the need to "value" each person as an equal spirit child of God. Being "rich in spirit" is a negative in that context, so it can't mean "spiritual" in the sense we normally apply. Being poor in spirit has to mean not valuing one's self above others, at the most fundamental spiritual level. I pointed out that one of the students is more valuable as a singer and actor than many others at their school, while another student is more valuable as a mathematician, and another one is more valuable as an athlete. There is something about each of the students that makes them more valuable than others in some "natural" way. However, there also are others who are more valuable in those ways than each of them. The tendency is to see differing value in objective ways and miss the equal value of each spirit child in God's eyes.
We talked about being able to mourn - and I asked them how mourning could be a condition of blessedness. That stumped them at first, but we had a good conversation about how we mourn only for the loss of that which we value highly and those we truly love. People who mourn are blessed for two reasons: they have something / someone in their lives of great value, and they have hearts that can feel deep love. Conversely, the inability to mourn is a sign of lack of value in one's life and an inability to love. We also talked about how much we can gain and give in the process of mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort.
We talked about meekness as a blessing. I asked them what they envision when they think of someone who is meek. It was interesting that their immediate pictures were of someone cowering in timidity and fear - or someone who was extremely submissive and weak. I asked them if that picture fit their understanding of Jesus, and they immediately realized it didn't. I said something like, "Dude was a carpenter, and he chased people out of the temple grounds with a whip!" We then talked about meek meaning "gentle, forgiving, benevolent" - which are VERY different attributes than weakness, timidity and fearfulness. We finished by talking about what that means in practical terms in their lives - how they can be more meek in the reality of their own situations without being weak, timid or fearful.