Sunday, September 07, 2014

Teenage Sunday School: Different ways of thinking about right and wrong: The Pharisees v Jesus

In this week's Sunday school lesson, the teens class considered different ways of thinking about right and wrong, tracing some classic examples of the Pharisees v Jesus, from handwashing before meals through to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This lesson was designed for a 45-minute time slot.

Introduction: Ways "Morality" can go wrong

 We're used to thinking of "morality" as something good. It's meant to be good. The whole point of "morality" is to be good. But it can go wrong sometimes. I'm going to name some ways in which people try to act "good" in a way that is not really all that good. Can you spot the problem with:

* Tattle-tales
* Goody-two-shoes/teachers' pets
* One-upping other people
* Games of "Gotcha", waiting for other people to make a mistake

Allow around 10 minutes for class discussion on that, and guide as needed. Let the students figure out on their own as much as they can. (Are the people involved trying to be good? To look good? To look better than someone else? To use rules as a way to make other people look bad?)

Application (about 5 minutes)

We've talked about some different ways that people abuse the whole idea of morality.

  1. Which ones annoy you the most when people do them to you? (I had everyone in the room answer that one. Got a variety of answers on it.)
  2. Which one is the most natural trap for you to fall into yourself, if you're willing to say? (I let them keep it private, though asked them to give it some thought so that they knew the answer themselves, even if they didn't care to share.) Those with siblings sometimes admitted to doing the tattle-tale thing.

Mentioned that these are the thing that give morality a bad name. Asked if they had ever met someone who distrusted the whole idea of morals, of right and wrong, because of problems like that. (Generally the younger teens had not met someone like that, but the older teens had.) Pointed out that it was a real problem, that there are people who distrust the whole idea of right and wrong because of how people abuse it.

Bible readings: The Pharisees

Assign each of these Bible readings to a student, and tell them: the same question will be asked about each reading, and the question is: What's wrong with the way the person is trying to use morality?
  • Mark 7:2-5 (The Pharisees against Jesus on his disciples and handwashing before meals)
  • Luke 6:1-2 (The Pharisees against Jesus on his disciples picking some grains as they walked past, on the Sabbath)
  • Luke 6:7-11 (The Pharisees against Jesus for healing a crippled man on the Sabbath)
  • Luke 8:9-14 (The Pharisee thanking God that he's not like other men)
  • Matthew 23:23-24 (Jesus on the Pharisees tithing their mint and dill while neglecting the big picture; straining gnats and swallowing camels)
I had each person read out loud and then answer about their own reading (what was wrong about the way they were using morality?) in order to get fuller participation.

Notice that when God shows up, it's the people playing the morality games -- generally the more "religious" people -- who objected and had a problem with him.

General questions for the class. They were defining morality in terms of washing hands, counting mint-sprigs and dill seeds, things like that.

  1. Why would they focus on such piddly things?
  2. Even if you did that kind of thing perfectly, would it ever help anyone?

What Jesus says is most important

Matthew 22:35-40: Jesus answers a question about what's most important in the law

But if someone is the type to count their dill-seeds to make themselves right with God, what would they do with "Love your neighbor"? We actually find out, Luke recorded it for us.

Luke 10:25-37 Parable of the Good Samaritan

  • Who were the different kinds of 'bad' people in the story?
  • Who was the good one?
  • At the end, Jesus asked: "Which one was the neighbor?" Looking back at the reading, what answer was given to Jesus' question?
  • Did this kind of "morality" make a difference in someone's life?

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