Fortunately, I had taught this same lesson to my adult Sunday school class a month ago and had already wrestled with these issues. I decided to share the whole truth and give the class insight on how Corrie Ten Boom handled having to forgive the unforgivable. Corrie's experience could reassure them that forgiveness from the heart is possible when we call on Jesus for help.
The lessons I wrote are below, and again the children made connections. One critical element of writing a lesson a la Charlotte Mason is to help them understand context. With both the older and younger classes, I focused them on the meaning of forgiveness in their lives by asking them if they ever made their parents angry more than three times a day, seven times a day, etc. Children came up with all kinds of numbers. Then, I explained that Peter wanted to know how many times we should forgive a person because rabbis were teaching that three is enough. But in the context of their lives, all of the children found three and even seven insufficient. Some thought that a thousand might work!
The other important element of the story is expressing the amount of forgiveness. With the older children, I explained that a denarius equals one day's worth of wages. To make the numbers easy, I told them I assumed that, by today's standards, a person could earn $100 a day. I told them one person in the parable owed 100 denarii, which equals $10,000 today. I even showed them a denarius from Jesus' day (the head on the coin is the emperor Tiberius who ruled Rome at this time in history).
When I saw the eyes widen in amazement, I explained talents. I asked them if billion dollar bills existed. They shook their heads no, so I told them a talent was like that. It was a number so big that it was a calculation, not a coin. A talent equals 15 years of work, so the other person owed 10,000 talents, which equals $6,000,000,000,000. Then, their eyes became really wide. Some whistled, while one student said the person could never pay it back while another said Bill Gates. I loved all of these comments because it told me that they were thinking and their minds were prepared to hear the parable.
After I read the entire parable to the older children, I asked them what they thought of the part about the torturers. They were pretty quiet. Then, I explained that sometimes it feels impossible to forgive someone who has something very terrible. But, we are not alone and we can turn to Jesus for help. I read to them the following excerpt from Tramp for the Lord.
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. . .
And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. ...
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me.
"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, . . ." his hand came out, . . . "will you forgive me?"
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses. . ."
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.
The children were very thoughtful as they left the room. One child asked me if there was a movie about this. I recommended The Hiding Place to her. I was chatting with the 3rd-4th grade teacher who has them after the scripture reading. She told me that they always know all of the answers to follow-up questions she has about what they learned. How exciting to know that living stories really do stick with them!
With the younger children, I scaffolded them even more because they were probably not ready to absorb big numbers and foreign money, much less familiar money. So, I showed them the grid below (about 9" x 7" in area) and told them that I would need 100 copies of the grid below to express the amount of forgiveness the king gave the first servant. As I talked about the king forgiving the debt, I ripped up the grid and threw it in the trash. Then, when I talked about the debt of the second servant, I showed that teeny tiny little block in the bottom, right corner of the picture below. It was hard to see and all of the little ones crowded around because they had to see how tiny it was. I did leave out the last two verses because of their age. I believe many got the concrete illustration I used because they said they thought the king would be sad because the servant did not forgive the other servant for the teeny, tiny debt.
As always the little ones were wiggly, but that does not bother me. Children that age ought to be enjoying the outdoor life, so I figure what ever attention they can spare is good enough for me. One child, the grandson of a friend, surprised his grandmother with what he remembered. Now, every time he gets angry at her, he says aloud, "Uh-oh, I know I need to forgive you. Where's a piece of paper?" Then, he rips up the paper and tells her, "I forgive you!" It just goes to show that living stories make an impact on children, regardless of how much they wiggle and waggle.
Subject: Literature and History
Time: 15 minutes
1. Interest the children in Jesus’ parable about the unmerciful servant so that they may not forget it.
2. Inspire the children to think about how much Jesus wanted us to forgive.
3. Let them know that asking the Holy Spirit for help is the key to forgiveness.
Material (Thank You Google Image Search):
1. Photographs of a denarius and stained glass windows depicting two scenes
2. Picture of a woodcarving of a third scene
3. Representation of money owed (pieces of paper)
4. Two strips representing the two amounts of money
5. Grid with six thousand tiny squares
6. One tiny square
Lesson for 3rd-4th and 5th-6th Grades:
Step 1. Explain to the children the two kinds of money mentioned. Show and pass out the picture of the denarius and today's equivalent. Pass out the strip representing talents.
Step 2. Ask the children how often they make their parents angry. Is forgiving three times enough? Seven times? Tell them what Peter learned about forgiveness from the other teachers.
Step 3. Hand out the pictures to children. Ask them to form small groups, one picture per group. Let them study the pictures and talk about them for a minute.
Step 4. Before reading the Bible, tell the children that they are to pass the picture just described when I pause. Read Matthew 18:21-35, pausing for the scenes in each picture.
Step 5. Wait for them to comment and ask thoughtful questions, feeding off their comments.
Step 6. Ask them what they thought of the part about the jailer. Read the passages written by Corrie Ten Boom about how the Holy Spirit helped her forgive the concentration camp guard.
Lesson for K-3/4/5 and 1st-2nd Grades:
Step 1. Ask the children how often they make their parents angry. Is forgiving three times enough? Seven times? Tell them what Peter learned about forgiveness from the other teachers.
Step 2. Explain to them that Jesus loved stories. One day Peter wanted to know how many times we should forgive a person. He told His answer through a story.
Step 3. Orally narrate Matthew 18:21-24. Tell them about the king and the servant and show them the grid with 6,000 tiny squares. Tell them that if I had a hundred copies of the grid that is how much the King needed forgive the servant. What could the servant do to be forgiven?
Step 4. Orally narrate Matthew 18:25-27. Rip up the paper and throw it in the trash to signify the canceled debt.
Step 5. Tell them about the servant and his friend who needed to be forgiven. Show them the tiny block paper which represents how much forgiveness he needed. Should the servant forgive the friend?
Step 6. Orally narrate Matthew 18:28-33. Ask them how they think the king felt about the servant who could not forgive.