This week we've talked about a story called "The Mansion," which is about a banker who spends his life doing good, all the while expecting a "return" or reward on his "investment"- the good-doing. In a dream, the man wakes up in heaven and, much to his surprise, is led past a series of mansions (which is exactly what he felt he deserved and should expect to receive) to a little shack- what his "good" had earned him.
I try not to be one of those English teachers who read into the text of every.single.story. ("When the author said the sky was blue, he was creating a metaphor for the fleeting happiness in our lives that comes just before a terrible storm." Um, maybe the sky is actually blue and you should calm down.) But, since this story already had a spiritual theme, it seemed like a good idea to
preach share my heart with the kids about some spiritual matters (again, with a more natural segway than, "Let's review the nominative case pronouns. By the way, are you living for Jesus today?")
The first application of the story, I told them, is that no good we do on our own will ever merit eternal life or favor with God. We get to feeling pretty cocky about how "good" we are until we have the ugly misfortune of measuring our goodness against God's perfection. That reality check reminds us that our very best is still "filthy rags" compared to His righteousness. Does that mean we throw up our hands, say "I'll never be as good as God," and then live how we want to? No, it just means that we have to rely fully on His help to live righteously and never get caught up in our own merit because it's worthless.
Then we discussed the second application- if this man really did do a lot of good and lived a moral life, why was his "mansion" in heaven a shack? He wasn't a bad guy- he was a good guy! He gave money to the church. He ran an honest business. He probably didn't claim extra dependents on TurboTax and cheat the government. (Wait, people do that? =) He deserved a mansion... probably more than some of those sinners! Yeah, we're all sinners, but they had done the bad sins.
Here's the second part: if we're doing good with the wrong motives, it's not going to be worth much and it won't last. I worry about my students because it's so easy, when you're surrounded by rules, at least at school and sometimes at home, to do right just to "follow the rules." To keep your parents off your back. To keep Mrs. McNeese from preaching at you in English (too late.) To keep from being "yelled at" in chapel. To not get detention. Whatever the reason, it's easy to do right just to please a person or follow a certain set of rules.
(This also makes it super easy to break the rules Unfortunately, and these kids are already learning this, but rules are just words on paper. And people let you down. Your parents, your teachers, your pastor, your mentor- I wish I could look at my students and tell them that no adult in their lives will ever fail them, but I can't. Why? Because adults have failed me! And I have failed as an adult... many times! So it's impossible to say that no one will ever disappoint them. Christ is the only Person that my students (and I) can follow without disappointment, without seeing hypocrisy or selfishness or just plain unrighteousness that they see in themselves and sadly, those they will follow.
I love my students, but if they do right for my sake, it won't last. I'll lead them wrong, someway or somehow, and probably unintentionally. So will any other person they choose to live for. And so will any person I choose to follow or do right for, other than God. He won't say one thing and do another. He won't break my heart. He won't turn on me, kick me when I'm down, or change His mood based on my behavior. (Thank goodness!) And that's what I want these kids to learn. As long as they make the decision to live right (or wrong) based on human expectations, they will continue to live for themselves because ultimately, what teenager really cares what their English teacher thinks? Don't "do good" (as Mr. Feeney says) for me, or your parents, or any other person, although wanting to please the adults in your life is not a bad thing. But do it for God or, eventually, you won't do it at all.
(Bell rings. Thank heavens, I'll shut up now. =)