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Know Not What They Do
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Recently, I spent a couple of days substitute teaching for a teacher whose classes have historically been easy to handle. This time, however, it was different. Not that I don’t expect some bad days. That’s part of my job. But there were two ninth grade boys who were particularly challenging.

The first problem was that they were totally bad for each other. Having them together in a classroom and not expecting trouble is like putting a lit match to gasoline and not expecting an explosion. The “explosion” in their case was not one of violence or aggression. They just loved teaming up to produce new levels of disruption to the class and pushing the teacher to his/her limit. They would do this by using bad language, crude gestures, and a variety of other methods that aren’t worth mentioning.

The other problem was that these boys truly had no clue what they were doing to themselves. Watching them act out was like watching someone slowly commit suicide, without realizing that’s what they were doing. This became particularly evident at the end of the class period on the last day I was with them. They had tried me the entire period and I had laid out careful notes for the teacher and principal, admittedly hoping they would be justly punished. But then something else happened.

Lump in My Throat

They began using the name of Jesus very inappropriately. Being in a public school, I overlooked it for a while but then finally asked them to please not use the name of Jesus in that way. From there, they proceeded to not only continue with their swearing, but they added mockery to it by pretending to be praying to Jesus and jokingly chastising each other for their sins. I had spent the class period fuming inside over these boys’ misbehavior, but as I watched them mocking Jesus, something very different came over me. I was no longer mad. In fact, I developed a lump in my throat and I found myself saying to them, “You guys don’t have any idea what you’re doing. It’s actually heartbreaking to me.” I actually felt I was going to cry.

I think two things hit me very hard. First, I realized that even though they were making fun of me for asking them not to use the Lord’s name as they were, I didn’t feel hurt. Instead, I felt…privileged. Immediately, the words of Paul came to my mind.  “for to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phillippians 2:29). Second, and more important, I felt so sad for Jesus because I knew how much He loved these boys even when they were rudely mocking Him.

My mind was transported to the cross where Jesus was mocked. He said to God, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” ( Luke 23:34). And I realized that when Jesus spoke those words, He was not only speaking them about the people mocking Him on Crucifixion Day, but that He was also speaking them about these two misbehaving boys in my 2010 classroom. I witnessed a moment at the cross that I hope I never forget. Suddenly, my desire for revenge was pushed aside by compassion.

“They know not what they do.” I wonder how many times Jesus has said those words for me.

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By Gwenn Scott Simmons. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture taken from the NEW KING JAMES VERSION © 1982.


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