The 11th Sunday after Pentecost

I enjoy teaching and the classroom and pretty much everything about it – preparations, planning, delivery, engaging with students but there is one thing I don’t enjoy. I do it, of course, professionally, critically, diligently but I find grading hard. I’m not so much talking about reading students’ work or listening to students, getting their views, listening to how they construct their knowledge from their sources and their creativity – that is part of learning about people (we do it everyday with everyone in one way or another) – no, what I struggle with, at times, are the percentage or the letter grade I need to use to encapsulate this whole process. I do it, just as it has been done to me; but who can assess perfectly? There is no perfect system. (Yes, systems say they are ‘good’ – but there will always be structural problems with them. Who assesses the assessment system? ) But we make do with what we have and ask for transparency and justice in any application of any assessment.

If I build a chair and sit on it and it breaks and I’m flat on the ground, do we assess that I am a poor carpenter? Do I give up building chairs? If I play cricket and get out both innings for a duck, do I put away the pads? Do I get picked for the team next time? Who knows?! All of life is a series of activities and assessments. There are two types of assessments – formative and summative – and the formative ones reflect growth overall in comparison to your past and they can guide and motivate us to learn and grow in pretty well all of life. The summative ones are assessments against standards or criteria – often rather arbitrarily set – that someone says is a requirement – to drive a car, build a chair for someone else, graduate, and for all those things we want to have some confidence – external validation – that people can do more than talk.

We need both assessments to live in this world. Wisdom gives us a perspective that while assessments can seem ‘be all’ and ‘end all’, they are not as defining as they often appear. But they are, nevertheless, tough to go through – and can be tough to administer well.

And if people believe in an after-life, then assessments – of some sort or other – are there as well. I wonder about those people who reject any concept of an after life what evidence they use for their belief that there is no after life and whether how much of their belief is fuelled by not liking assessments. (Who has the right to assess me? – sort of thing.)

But it strikes me as very normal for Planet Earth that our view of an assessment to an after life revolves around us and our achievements. That is why religion can be a cruel taskmaster on a treadmill of good works frantically trying to reach a goal with no certainty and just blood, sweat, and tears along the way. When Christianity is viewed or taught in this way, that is the saddest thing of all.

The account of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection – all for us – is good news precisely because Jesus achieved the summative assessment about living on Planet Earth and he shares it with humanity. Humanity is assessed and Jesus has done something about it – perfectly. That is the Good News! That means that any religious assessments or spiritual judgements we make or are made on us are the formative ones so that we learn and grow; and they can guide and motivate us because we are directed back to Jesus and his gift of new life; a life we live through faith in this world of sight and experience.

God acts with transparency through his Word as he tells us clearly what he has done. He also acts justly by not ‘changing the rules’ and Jesus’ Good News is for everyone – yes, everyone. Of all the assessments we ever face, this is the only one about which we need have no concerns or fears for the future! GS