For the second time I’m teaching a “Life and Teachings of Jesus” course at the local community college. We spend a lot of time in the Gospels themselves, just to see what’s actually there – especially Luke (since IBS has a nice paperback edition of Luke with line drawings and without chapter and verse numbers). And we read two textbooks (Tom Cahill’s Desire of the Everlasting Hills, and Luke Timothy Johnson’s Living Jesus).

Here are comments about Jesus from some of my students, written in personal reaction papers recently:

Even though people mocked him and were hateful to him, he did not let this discourage him. He was not ashamed to be with the poor or needy; in fact, he showed them love and consideration.

I wonder how he felt about being followed by the Pharisees on an everyday basis. Each day he knew that they were out to catch or trap him, so that they could discredit, imprison, or even kill him …. I also can understand why the Pharisees would get so irritated at his wit and wisdom, because in a way it is insulting, like a slap in the face to them.

I wonder if Jesus would be upset with us for the war in Iraq, or any war the U.S. has been in.

I tried to think how Jesus handled things when people would ridicule him and test him. He was so strong and so witty. He was able to come back with some of the greatest remarks.

I want to do good to thank him for all he did for us.

Nothing shocking, eh? Or earth-shaking? But it’s this real Jesus, who lived in the dust and crowds just like his contemporaries, who is the one still changing lives today. And I suspect he has some values issues with our nation and our culture today just as with theirs back then.

A year ago I wrote this:

I just finished teaching a community college course on “The Life and Teachings of Jesus.” I was impressed to see that people actually changed during the semester. We just discussed what we read in the Gospels, and a couple of books by authors who take the Gospels seriously. We had none of the expected attributes of “Christian ministry” — music, praying, offering, youth parties, missions emphasis, drama, eucharist or communion, baptism, or clergy – but we still saw people changing. Some of us changed our theories of Jesus or of the Bible, general attitudes about life changed, behavior patterns changed – and all in the directions of truthfulness and courtesy.

I’m sure the changes … came … from our serious and sustained attention to the person of Jesus himself as expressed in the actions and teachings of his life.

Is there a way to get more of THAT in church life in this country?

Or even in life outside the churches? Is it legit or even possible to truly promote Jesus without church structures, finances, and credentialing? Is it necessary?