My students call me Teacher Mike. I know that sounds weird. There are cultural and linguistic reasons why they do that, but I don’t want to get into it now because it’s not at all the point of this post. But when we come to the last paragraph, this little piece of information will provide clarity. You’ll see what I mean. So for now, just go with it.
Easter always comes around at just the right time of the school year. After nearly two full semesters, I’m running low on creativity, enthusiasm, patience, and grace. And there’s nothing like sharing the good news to fill me up again. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried communicating the Easter story to six year olds in a language that isn’t their first. But there’s something so beautiful about the simple, transcendent truth that remains after you’ve reduced it down to something that will resonate across language, cultural, and age barriers. Exploring the life and ministry of Jesus in a brief survey, accompanied by vivid storybook illustrations, I find myself along with the kids, confronted with all the ways Jesus demonstrated for us how to love God and love other people. And I see clearly how different Jesus is from everyone else. And suddenly his death becomes that much more tragic, his sacrifice that much more precious, and his resurrection that much more wonderful.
Something else happens when we talk about the Easter story each year. I’m reminded just how scandalous the gospel of grace is and how much my own heart and mind are not aligned with it. Every class has a handful of perfect students who follow the rules to the letter and make steady progress throughout the year, lots of average students, and a few who make me want to beat my head against the desk when I return to the office after class each day. Although I try not to show it, I have such a fondness for that handful of model students and probably favor them in ways that I don’t even realize. But when we discuss the Easter story, the works-based economy of my class is turned on its head. “Jesus never did anything wrong,” I tell them. “So when he died, he wasn’t being punished for his own bad things, but for other people’s.” “Do you know anyone who does bad things?” The Roman soldiers, Judas, the leaders who didn’t like Jesus, the “little man in the tree” and the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus are all listed. “Do you ever do bad things?” I ask. My model students confidently shake their heads and say no. Meanwhile, all the others quickly admit their faults, none more emphatically than my most energy-zapping, patience-testing few who frequently tempt me to give myself a concussion. Convinced of their need, they intently listen for the rest of the story.
Like David after hearing Nathan’s bombshell prophecy, I’m suddenly aware of the incongruence between my beliefs and my behavior. And God brings proper perspective, and I realize who I am in all of this. In God’s classroom, I’m the kid who’s constantly rebelling for no good reason. I’m the kid who can’t seem to follow the simple, straightforward rules that are obviously in place for my own good. I’m the kid who just can’t get it, even after we’ve been over and over the material. And I’m the kid who seldom responds well to correction and throws tantrums and can’t seem to manage his emotions effectively. And Teacher Jesus doesn’t show favoritism to the squeaky-clean student next to me with all four chair legs on the floor, and his hand raised patiently to answer the question in clear, complete sentences. He loves me and values me and spares no expense to make sure that I know it. He requires obedience from me, but not in order to gain his approval. My job is to be his hands and feet in the classroom, and to imitate him. The Easter story, and its effect on my English class are a good reminder for me to make sure that I’m seeing my students the way Jesus does, and that they can somehow see Jesus in me.