Ends and Means

Second after Pentecost, Mark 3:20-35, Lectionary reading for June 6, 2021

Satan can not cast out Satan, only God can cast out Satan; you can not do good through evil means.

This passage of scripture comes early in Jesus’ ministry. He hasn’t been teaching and healing for long, but word has spread. There are so many people crowded around him, his family can’t get close enough to check up on him and see for themselves if all the rumours are true. His family wonders if he’s out of his mind, and the scribes think he’s possessed by demons.

But hang on a minute. Moments ago he healed a man with a withered hand, and before that he performed several other miracles: he healed a man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-28), healed many others at Simon’s house (1:29-34), cleansed a leper (1:40-45), and restored a paralyzed man (2:1-12)! The religious authorities accuse Jesus of using the power of Satan to do these works, but Jesus points out what the crowd already knows: these miracles are only possible through God’s power.

Satan can’t achieve evil ends with good works, and neither can we achieve positive outcomes if the path is one of evil, deception, or cruelty. Whenever humans try to use just a *little* evil in the name of the greater good, things fall apart. It’s as though Satan is waiting for us to steal that money we promise to use to help widows and orphans, only to pounce and really get us in his grips, and convince us that stealing a little more won’t hurt, and neither will spreading that rumour or starting that fire. If you want to do good, you gotta do good!

While this is a tricky idea to get across to little ones, I found the perfect story to make the concept easier to understand. The Snatchabook is a little critter who desperately wants a bedtime story, but doesn’t have anyone to read to him. His solution? He will steal some books! The families of Burrow Down miss their books and want them back. What’s worse, they accuse each other of stealing the books, leading to suspicions and hurt feelings. Eliza stays up all night to solve the mystery and meets the Snatchabook. She explains that stealing is wrong and helps the little fellow make amends.

There’s nothing wrong with needing a bedtime story! But the Snatchabook learns that stealing stories isn’t the right way to go about meeting that need. Once the books were all returned and the Snatchabook made his apologies, the families of Burrow Down welcome him into their homes for story time. The wrong way often seems like the easy way, and it takes guidance from caring adults for children to learn that doing the wrong thing only ever leads to more wrong things, while doing the right thing, even if it seems like so much more work, will lead to even better things.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Do you know anyone who has stolen anything? Ask for stories without names.
  • Why do you think people steal?
  • Do you think there’s ever a good reason to steal?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Would you let the Snatchabook into your home after he stole all of those books? Why?
  • What do you think the Snatchabook should have done instead of starting to steal?
  • When you can’t think of a good way to solve your problem, who can you go to for help?

Docherty, Helen. The Snatchabook. Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013.

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We Are Not Defined By Our Sins

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter; Acts 3:12-19; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

When I was a child, sin terrified me. I was a Very Good Girl, and there was a lot at stake to keep it that way. While far from perfect, I wanted everyone, including God, to think I was. If I wanted to go to heaven, I had to be perfect, right? Once, shortly after my grandpa taught me how to make the sign of the cross, I did it with my left hand. That was it, I was sure I was going straight to hell, even though God had made me left-handed. I prayed and prayed for forgiveness, but I feared it would never be enough.

I lost my faith as a teenager, partly because I couldn’t keep up the perfection game. I didn’t understand how God could have made me so flawed and then wanted me to follow all these rules! I didn’t have enough scriptural understanding or guidance to survive that paradox. Rather than feel the shame of failing to meet God’s expectations, I rejected Him altogether. I was a sinner, so I gave up.

Eliza J. Murphy is also a Very Good Girl. She’s even captain of the Worm Rescue Team! But in Abigail Rayner’s book, I am a Thief!, she does something no good girl would ever do: she steals a sparkly green stone from her classroom. Eliza feels terrible about being a thief, but when she starts asking family members about their checkered pasts, she discovers that many of them have stolen things too — but that doesn’t make her feel any better.

Eventually Eliza realizes something important: even if someone is a thief, they are many other things too. Their mistakes do not define them, especially when they make amends. The children in our care need to know that they will mess up, make mistakes, and yes, sin, but that they are more than the sum of their deficits. They are beloved children of God. No matter what they have done, all they need to do is turn away from their mistake and back toward God to have their sins wiped away. There may still be worldly consequences for their actions, but God’s love and forgiveness are assured.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Have you ever stolen something? What happened?
  • How do you feel when you know you’ve done something wrong?
  • Does someone in your family write down all the mistakes you’ve made? Do you think God does?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Why do you think Ms. Delaney tells Eliza that she’s brave?
  • Does this book tell you it’s ok to steal?

I loved reading this book, and I think you will too. Click on the book image to purchase it through amazon and you’ll be supporting my work on this blog. Thanks for reading, please subscribe so you always have a book suggestion ready for your ministry!

Rayner, Abigail. I Am a Thief! NorthSouth Books, 2019