With my third graders last Sunday, I told the gospel story: Jesus’ parable of the two sons whose father asked them to work in the vineyard; one said “no” but then went and worked; the other said “yes” but never got around to going to the vineyard. Jesus asked, “Which one did what his father wanted?”
We talked about what Jesus meant to teach us. I asked how many had fathers who owned a vineyard. No one. How many went to work with their father every day? No one. So does this parable have anything to do with us?
“Well, God is our Father too,” offered one child, “so maybe Jesus is telling us not to just say prayers but to do God’s work.”
“That’s good. A good answer'” I said, “So the next question is, What is God’s work?”
This took some discussion to figure out. “Going to church?” “Helping poor people?” “Doing what our parents and teachers tell us to do?”
It took a while, but we got there. Together we decided, as one girl suggested, that God’s work is love.
“Yes,” I said, “God wants us to love God and love each other.”
“OK,” said Elise, “as long as that doesn’t include me loving my 5 year old brother. He’s impossible to love.”
“Why is he impossible to love?” I asked.
“Because he’s mean. He is always mean to me. He does mean things to me every day.”
“And when he is mean to you, are you mean back to him?”
“Not always. Not usually. Sometimes, but I try not to be.”
“Well, Elise, every time he is mean to you and you are NOT mean back to him, you are loving him.”
“Uh? But I never FEEL like I love him.”
“That’s OK. The love that God wants from us is not a feeling but an action. There’s a saying ‘Actions speak louder than words.’ God doesn’t care if you ever say or think ‘I love my little brother.’ God cares how you ACT.”
Of course, at that point, someone else wanted to talk about mean words, bullying words, and how sometimes people can act nice in front of others but sneaky say mean things to you. So that got us into a whole other discussion about words and actions, bullying and protecting, only seeming nice and really being nice.
Continuing to reaffirm my belief that third graders are the best theologians.