- Understand Christian teaching about the concept of sin.
- Understand Christian teaching about the consequences of sin in people’s lives today.
- Understand Christian teaching about the eternal consequences of sin.
- Understand the concept of grace.
- Evaluate a list of actions, determining whether or not each action is a bad thing to do.
- Reflect upon the idea of being able to balance out the bad things someone has done by doing good.
- Analyse Matthew 18:21-35 in order to understand the idea of a debt that is too large to pay off.
- Reflect upon the differences between the Christian concept of grace and the idea of wiping out wrongdoing by one’s own efforts.
- Reflect upon the role of the Holy Spirit in helping Christians not to keep on doing wrong things after receiving God’s grace.
- Synthesise a conversation between Black Widow and Loki (from Marvel’s Avengers Assemble) to demonstrate the student’s understanding of the concepts of sin and grace.
Read out a list of actions, and ask the students to vote (with a show of hands) on the question of whether they think each action could be described as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Here are the actions:
- Keeping (rather than handing in to the police) a wallet that you find in the street.
- Playing on in football when you know that the ball has gone out of play.
- Stealing fruit off a market stall.
- Stealing an expensive piece of jewellery from a jeweller’s shop.
- Punching someone who is annoying you.
- Punching someone in self defence if they attack you first.
- Not completing homework assignments on time.
Ask students to justify their opinions – why do they think these things are or are not wrong? Where two of the items on the above list are similar, ask any students who considered one, but not the other, to be wrong to explain the distinction between the two.
Explain that in this lesson you are going to be thinking about what Christians believe about wrong actions, and about possible responses to realising that they have done something wrong.
Introduce the clip from the film Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (Paramount, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.
Explain that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in the middle of an evil scheme to take over the world. SHIELD agent Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has been sent to interrogate him and to find out how he plans to defeat SHIELD. However, she seems more concerned with the fate of her friend Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) – referred to here as ‘agent Barton’ – who is being controlled by Loki and made to serve the Norse god’s evil purposes. Ask the students to pay particular attention to why Black Widow says she is concerned about Hawkeye and Loki’s response to her explanation.
- Start time: 1.00.53 (in chapter 11 of the DVD)
- End time: 1.03.37
- Clip length: 2 minutes and 44 seconds
The clip starts with Loki pacing in his high-tech cell. The first line is Loki telling Black Widow ‘There’s not many people who can sneak up on me.’ Stop the clip after Loki says, ‘…and they will never go away.’
Ask the students why Black Widow is so concerned to save Hawkeye from Loki’s clutches. Draw out that she feels a sense of debt to him for saving her life and giving her a fresh start with SHIELD rather than killing her as ordered. Remind the students of Black Widow’s explanation to Loki: ‘It’s really not that complicated: I’ve got red on my ledger; I’d like to wipe it out.’ If necessary explain that in book-keeping, red ink was used to indicate a debt or shortfall in an accounts ledger, whereas black ink was used to show income and profit. Do the students feel that if Black Widow rescues Hawkeye from Loki’s control, she will have wiped out the red on her ledger and repaid her debt, to Hawkeye and to others? Remind them of Loki’s repost to Black Widow, reminding her of how much evil she has done and questioning whether it is possible for her to wipe out so much red.
Read Matthew 18:21-35 with the students. Ask them what the first servant could have done to wipe out his debt to his king. Draw out that his financial debt was the equivalent of millions of pounds and that there was no way he could ever have paid it off himself. Ask the students to imagine what it would have felt like to try paying off that kind of debt without any help.
Christians believe that everybody – including themselves – are sinners and that everybody has fallen short of God’s standard of perfection (see Romans 3:23-24 for example). This sin is perceived to have consequences in people’s lives today and also far-reaching eternal consequences. In the here and now, sin corrupts people and spoils their character. It creates bad habits and guilty consciences which have an impact on the day-to-day lives of people. Sin also separates people from God, preventing them from enjoying the relationship with him that they were made to have. If the problem of sin is not dealt with, Christians believe it will keep someone separated from God for eternity.
Although the main point of this parable is one of how forgiven people should treat those who seek forgiveness from them, it also serves to illustrate another important concept: grace. Remind students of the earlier discussion about sin. God’s response to the problem of sin was to allow Jesus to take the punishment that everybody else deserved, so that by putting their trust in him anybody can be forgiven. Christians believe that forgiveness is not earned (so Black Widow would never be able to wipe out all the red on her ledger by her own efforts, even if she thwarted Loki’s attempt to take over and rule the world) but is a free gift that God offers to everyone despite the fact that nobody deserves it. This is grace – God’s undeserved favour, freely given. Students might like to remember the concept using the mnemonic God’s riches at Christ’s expense (although this mnemonic doesn’t include any mention of ‘undeserved’).
Ask students what is to stop someone who has received God’s grace from going out and doing lots of bad things again, knowing that they can always be forgiven again. Look at John 14:15-17 and 25-27 with the group. Ask the students (in pairs or small groups) to look at these verses and see what they suggest would prevent a Christian from simply going back to doing whatever they wanted.
Draw out from the students that Christians believe that forgiveness and grace happens in the context of a relationship. Christians believe that God sends the Holy Spirit (the third part of the Trinity) to live with Christians (v17). The Spirit’s role is to help Christians to become better at recognising the things in their lives that need to change, and to be better at living the way God wants them to (v26).
SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:
Ask the students to rewrite the scene between Black Widow and Loki. Loki should still question whether Black Widow can possibly wipe out the red on her ledger, but this time she should respond by explaining that someone else can wipe it out for her. Their discussion should include a summary of Christian belief about the effects of sin and the impact of grace in dealing with sin.
YOU WILL NEED:
- A copy of the film Marvel’s Avengers Assemble and the means to play it.