I recently heard an excellent talk in which the speaker focused on the story of Jesus ditching his parents in favour of hanging out in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52). Jesus’ parents had set off home towards Nazareth, thinking that the young Jesus was travelling somewhere in their group with the rest of their family and friends. Unbeknown to them, Jesus had stayed in Jerusalem and after a frantic three days of searching for him, they found him in the temple courts.
As I reflected on this story myself, I was drawn to verses 46-47.
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
As I stopped to consider what these two verses, it occurred to me that this is an excellent example of a shared learning environment. Notice that Jesus is both listening to the teachers and asking questions. Notice also that everyone who heard him (the implication being that ‘everyone’ here means those who were involved in the conversation) was amazed at his understanding and his answers.
The best way I can think of to picture what is going on here is to visualise it with a diagram.
This community of learning is not a new idea in the context of the temple. It is how people discussed ideas, debated topics and learnt from each other. I can imagine that at times it got quite lively. There was always room for disagreement and robust debate. But most importantly, there was a culture of listening and asking questions, of sharing answers and knowledge.
I can’t help but wonder why we don’t encourage this more in our own faith communities.
What might it look like if we actively invited people to participate in a shared learning environment? Imagine how vibrant and inclusive our faith communities might be if we dared to encourage people of all ages to step into the conversation, to become active participants in a community of learning.