Tim*was in my class for three years altogether, and I got to know him quite well. The bane of some teachers’ lives, I actually found him very likeable. At fourteen he was much like any other lad, spiky hair and freckles, hands habitually in his pockets as he sauntered round the school with a cheeky grin. He had assumed the role of class clown, and took it upon himself to make some wise crack at every possible opportunity. But there was no malice in his mischief, even though some of my colleagues found him too disruptive for their liking.
“Why do I have to take Religious Studies, Miss? I ain’t gonna be a vicar.” He said it so often, I found myself waiting to hear it every time I set a task that challenged him. My response that he lived in a religiously pluralistic society and needed to know how to get on with everybody fell on deaf ears each time. My suggestion that one day he might fall in love with a Muslim or Sikh girl and would need to understand her beliefs and practices was always met with incredulity.
One day I was recounting to the class the story from John 8 of the woman taken in adultery. As I told the story, I made plain the trap that was being set for Jesus by the religious leaders who opposed Him. If He let the woman off and told them not to stone her, He was disobeying the law of the God He claimed to represent. If He told them to go ahead and stone her, they could accuse Him of not following the principles of love that He preached. Either way they could discredit Him. As I relayed His punchline, “Let the person who is without sin be the first one to cast a stone at her”, a grin began to play at the corners of Tim’s mouth, and then spread broadly across his face.
“He was smart, Miss, that Jesus-dude.” And he nodded his approval, looking round at the rest of the class for their agreement, as was his wont. There were nods and murmurs of, “Yeah” from all around the classroom.
I was elated. Whether they knew it or not my class, 76% of whom had declared themselves atheists in a recent poll, were expressing a form of worship, acknowledging something of the wisdom of Jesus and making known their appreciation. What stories could you tell that might elicit worship to God even from non-believers?
*Not his real name