When I teach, I am an archer, shooting words like arrows in hopes that one will strike home. But sometimes none do. The words whiz over the heads of their intended targets. I fire one sentence after another. "The Israelites spread the blood of the lamb over the doorway," I say. And kids rustle in their seats. So I fire again, "It was the blood from a perfect, spotless lamb." Blank stares. Better fire from a different angle, "Jesus was called the lamb of God." There's a hint of recognition, so I continue, "When the blood of the lamb covered the doorway to the house, Death could not enter." Slowly a child on the front row raises his hand. "This is it," I think. My heart starts to rise, "Yes?..." "What time do we get out of here?" My heart plummets. At this point, my supply is depleted, and I walk away from the class time without any indication that the word of God penetrated to dividing soul and Spirit, joints and marrow.
But every once in a while, an arrow pricks a child's heart. Last Wednesday night happened to be one of those times.
We were watching a video clip from The Visual Bible: Matthew in which Jesus heals a leper (Mt. 8:2-4). The scene starts with the leper approaching Jesus. He falls down on his knees and cries out, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." The disciples reflexively cover their faces and turn away in order to avoid contamination. But Jesus walks toward the leper. The disciples look on in bewilderment as Jesus unwraps the bandages and gently touches the man's face, "I am willing. Be clean!" At that moment, with Jesus' touch, the leper is healed.
The video clip ended, and I began to explain to the class that Jesus used his hands to welcome those whom no one else would. He touched mud to a blind sinner's eyes. He ate with tax collectors. He blessed children. He washed his disciple's dirty feet. Jesus touched the sick, the dirty, and the unclean. I was about to move on when a young boy's voice stopped me. Our eyes met, and he asked, "Why would he do that?"
The question hung in the air suspended by the silence that filled the room. The rest of the students scooted to the edge of their seats, and I knew this boy had spoken their hearts' longing as well. The class was a silent chorus pleading, "Tell us it's true." The arrow had penetrated.
So I told them. I told them that the reason Jesus welcomed these outcasts was because He loved them; God loves them. Jesus was sad they were sick and shunned. He wanted them to be made whole and well. And it was His touch that brought this healing. It was His touch that made the polluted, pure. And it is His touch that will make us clean, as well. It's true. And in that moment, with 40 kids leaning in, the arrow pierced my own heart as well. It is true, and I believed it.
But maybe I am more of a gardener than an archer. This isn't just a hit-or-miss operation. I till soil, plant seeds, water the earth, and pull weeds. Sometimes I get a glimpse of green sprouting from the soil. Sometimes I see the fruit of my labor. But mostly, I wait. With dirt under my fingernails and sweat on my brow, I pray for a bountiful harvest. And all the while, the Sun is shining down, beckoning to the seed, calling it to Himself.
"So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow" (1 Cor. 3:7).