On my mission, my companions and I would always play a game to pass time while tracting. We would randomly point at a an object and ask, “Elder, how is x like y?”, x being the random object, and y being a random principle. Thus, you might ask, “Elder, how is that trash can like repentance?” or “How is that light post like faith?” The missionary would then have to respond with a suitable parable on the fly. This kept our minds limber and flexible, as well as improved our extemporaneous preaching skills. It would also segue into some very interesting gospel discussions as we discussed different opinions on theology.
An interesting trend I noticed while playing the game: If the missionary has a lot of experience in the subject, the more complex his parable became. For example, one missionary had electrician training, so when I asked him how the electrical grid is like the priesthood, he went into an incredibly rich parable of the priesthood and electrical grids. It was quite impressive, and actually helped me think of the priesthood in different ways I had never considered before.
Christ is famous for His parables. He has a lot of them, for sure, and they can become very complex. People love them today, but a lot of people also remain perplexed. Either way, the fact that we’re still discussing them shows that these parables contain richness and complexity that we cannot observe all at once. Which made me wonder: Was Jesus brainy?
Jesus drew a lot of parallels from life into the gospel – mostly from physical nature and human nature. He compares the Pharisees to children playing in the market, comparing their social behaviors. He compares preaching the gospel to how seeds are sown. And, interestingly, the man was a scriptural scholar (and impressive one at that). He counters the devil with “Is it not written” and uses scriptural analogies to condemn hypocritical and unhealthy religious behavior.
“Well, He’s Jesus,” we say. “He’s the Son of God. He’s privy to certain knowledge.” In the old days, Jesus the infant was always drawn with a very adult looking face because early Christians just couldn’t comprehend that Jesus wasn’t born already human – would God have to relearn everything like children do? Would He have to eventually realize His mission in life as we do with our individual purposes? Yet the scriptures say that he learned grace by grace. Did He show an uncanny affinity to all things spiritual? Probably, he did, but that’s no different than my brother and I who show an uncanny affinity to the humanities while my sister is much better at the sciences and my wife who loves mathematics.
Jesus’ attitude towards learning is striking. We have one instance as a child where His parents accidentally left Him behind and they found Him at the temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46, emphasis added). Not only did they marvel “at his understanding and answers” (Luke 2:47) but no doubt they marveled at His questions, too.
The earthly Jesus was observant and He asked questions. He drew upon this knowledge to teach the gospel more effectively. People called him rabbi, and you don’t call just anyone rabbi. That title is reserved for those who know – a lot. In other words, Christ was a nerd, something that American culture tends to discourage. We distrust those who know “too much for their own good,” but how much is too much? Doesn’t the God of the universe know everything? And how can you get nerdier than that?
A lot of people say that education is only good as long as it’s in line with the Gospel. Where did Jesus, then, draw His radical ideas from? – and they were radical; the Pharisees crucified Jesus not only because He threatened their power, but also because He espoused doctrines that, in their mind, were downright blasphemous. Since the Pharisees were the religious establishment, you could say that all of His observation and curiosity did make Him slightly liberal, if you wanted to frame this situation in such horrifically crude terms. What Jesus’ knowledge did do, however, is introduce new ideas, and new ideas can scare people. But that did not concern the Son of God, apparently. He wasn’t concerned with formulating doctrine that correlated with the Pharisees; He wanted doctrine that correlated with God.
We, too, should emulate this (for lack of better word) nerdy, intellectual Jesus who sought to understand how the world worked so that he could better draw analogies to help others to understand and formulate conclusions which aligned Himself closer to God, not man. Education and an insatiable curiosity for the world drove Him to better understand how to draw connections from nature and the people around Him. The day we declare we know “enough” is the day we begin to lose our ability to effectively make connections and develop a richer understanding of God.