Friday, May 17, 2019

“What Lack I Yet?" Notes on Matthew 19–20; Mark 10; Luke 18, CFM study for May 13-19

Interactions with the Pharisees about Divorce, Matthew 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12

  • In Mark 10:1, it sets up the scene by saying that "the people resort unto him again and, as he was wont, he taught them again."  I was struck by the patience this verse implies.  The people don't stop coming and He doesn't stop teaching them "again."  I imagine He had to repeat himself a lot.  It reminds me of my job as a mother, to be continually thronged with needs of people I love and to keep meeting them again and again.
  • The Pharisees come to Christ asking about marriage and divorce, "tempting him," or testing him.   John the Baptist was imprisoned and eventually lost his life because of what he said about marriage and divorce in regards to Herod Antipas, so perhaps the Pharisees had some hopes to trap Christ into saying something similar.
  • Christ answers by going back to the creation of man and woman and the commandment they were given to leave father and mother and become one flesh.  "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
  • As Saints in these last days, we also honor and revere marriage and the families that are thus created.  Nearly a decade ago, I created a book and a blog post outlining our beliefs about eternal families.  Looking at all the photos in that post sure brings back memories!
  • The Pharisees then ask about why Moses allowed divorce, and Christ explains that because the people were hardhearted, divorce was permitted.  
  • While Matthew talks only about a man who divorces his wife, Mark includes the case of a woman divorcing her husband too.  According to Thomas Wayment, "a woman could not divorce her husband according to Jewish law, but she could according to Roman law."
  • The questions about if a divorced person commits adultery by marrying another is a hard one.  Obviously, under the law of Moses, this was not the case, but the higher law that Christ is describing requires no divorce except for cases of infidelity.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ addresses the basic law of Moses and then gives a higher law for each of the standards, including this one.  He does the same in this passage.
  • Elder Oaks' addresses this issue today:  "The kind of marriage required for exaltation—eternal in duration and godlike in quality—does not contemplate divorce. In the temples of the Lord, couples are married for all eternity. But some marriages do not progress toward that ideal. Because “of the hardness of [our] hearts,” the Lord does not currently enforce the consequences of the celestial standard. He permits divorced persons to marry again without the stain of immorality specified in the higher law. Unless a divorced member has committed serious transgressions, he or she can become eligible for a temple recommend under the same worthiness standards that apply to other members."
  • This article is excellent on the same subject.  The way I understand it, someday when there is not so much hardness of heart -- perhaps during the Millenium? -- we will all live under that higher law.  
  • In the meantime, those of us who have made covenants to God and to our spouse need to be mindful that marriage involves a total and complete commitment.  We need to be a shepherd in our marriages, not a hireling who flees when the challenges of life press upon us.
  • James E. Faust:  What, then, might be “just cause” for breaking the covenants of marriage? Over a lifetime of dealing with human problems, I have struggled to understand what might be considered “just cause” for breaking of covenants. I confess I do not claim the wisdom or authority to definitively state what is “just cause.” Only the parties to the marriage can determine this. They must bear the responsibility for the train of consequences which inevitably follow if these covenants are not honored. In my opinion, “just cause” should be nothing less serious than a prolonged and apparently irredeemable relationship which is destructive of a person’s dignity as a human being.  At the same time, I have strong feelings about what is not provocation for breaking the sacred covenants of marriage. Surely it is not simply “mental distress,” nor “personality differences,” nor having “grown apart,” nor having “fallen out of love.” This is especially so where there are children.
  • The verses about eunuchs can be confusing and are only in Matthew.  Christ says "All men cannot receive these sayings," and then he discusses the existence of eunuchs.   It is unclear from the passages which of "these sayings" He is referring to, so the verses that follow can a be interpreted as commending celibacy.  They also can be interpreted the opposite way, as a condemnation of those who will not accept the higher law of marriage.  The second is much more in line with what the gospel teaches.
  • The student manual says, "Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained that anciently some people held the false belief that a life of celibacy was to be sought after: “Apparently those who made themselves eunuchs were men who in false pagan worship had deliberately mutilated themselves in the apostate notion that such would further their salvation. It is clear that such was not a true gospel requirement of any sort. There is no such thing in the gospel as wilful emasculation; such a notion violates every true principle of procreation and celestial marriage

Christ Blessing the Children, Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17

  • The people bring their children to Christ for Him to bless them.  The word in Luke means infants, while Matthew uses the word children.  I love the image of little ones being brought to Christ and that Mark tells us that Christ was "much displeased" when the disciples tried to send the children away.
  • I have a strong testimony based on my own experiences that what Christ says is true, that "of such is the kingdom of heaven."  Little ones are so pure and it is a privilege to nurture them.  

The Rich Young Man, Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30

  • The three gospels tell this story with some slight differences.  I love how Mark says that the rich man came "running and kneeled to him."  He seems eager, sincere, and anxious to know what he needs to do.  Shouldn't we all do the same?
  • Given that initial eagerness, I am reminded of Peter, who boldly walked on water and then started to falter when he saw the winds.  This man wanted to do good and Christ loved him but in the end he went away sorrowing, for he had great possessions.  
  • Are we prepared to do what Christ needs for us to do in our lives?  Or will we eagerly rush into our discipleship but then abandon it because we love something else more?
  • The word used here for perfection here is teleios, the same one I discussed when we talked about Matthew 5.  It does not mean to be free of flaws, but to be complete or to achieve a distant goal.  
  • I love how Mark tells us that "Jesus beholding him loved him," There's a great talk by Elder S. Mark Palmer about this passage.
  • Christ loved him and then proceeded to give Him a commandment that was difficult for the young man to hear.  We live in an age where tolerance of people exactly as they are is the supreme virtue.  Sometimes it is called "unconditional love," but at its root is the idea that "you don't love me if you ask me to change." And yet, Christ, who loved the young man no matter what, also loved him enough to want what was best for him.  Commandments are given out of love.
  • The commandments that Jesus lists are slightly different in each book, but they are also given differently in various places in the Old Testament.  Interestingly, Mark adds the commandment "defraud not," added.  Julie Smith says this about that addition:  This phrase appears to have been in the earliest manuscripts but was omitted by some later scribes, probably because they realized that “defraud not” did not belong to a listing of the Ten Commandments.[1] And surely the audience would have expected a reference to the tenth commandment, which prohibited coveting, here. But instead Jesus violates their expectations with the command not to defraud. Why does Jesus mention defrauding in a manner designed for maximum audience impact? Perhaps because “the command, ‘You shall not defraud,’ would have immediately elicited in the minds of Jesus’ listeners the whole constellation of images which associated elite wealth with greed, land acquisition, and the abuse of day laborers.”[2] While Mark’s audience has not yet been informed of it, this man is wealthy. So the reference to defrauding is most appropriate to his personal situation and speaks to Jesus’ prophetic gifts. (It may also reflect the commandments in Lev. 19:13 and/or Deut. 24:14– 15.) In the economic reality of Jesus’ time, there was no path to wealth except to defraud others: “In the localized zero-sum economy of agrarian Palestine, there was little chance one could become rich without having defrauded people along the way.”[3] Also, through the act of altering the list of the Ten Commandments in order to reflect the personal situation of his interlocutor, Jesus makes clear his own relationship to the law.[4]
  • So, should we all sell everything we have, give it to the poor and then follow Christ?  While I think the gospel teaches us that a willingness to sacrifice all things for the sake of Christ is needed, it is more likely that this commandment was given to this specific man because the wealth he had acquired, possibly by defrauding others, was holding him back.  This was his offending eye that needed to be cut off.
  • Julie Smith gives some very interesting arguments:  While the impulse to minimize Jesus’ teachings should generally be avoided, there is good reason to believe that the command to sell all was not meant to be a universal command but rather was unique to this man’s situation:
    1. Even after their call to follow Jesus, Peter still had a house and (presumably) James[16] and John still had a boat—evidence that they, even as apostles, were not under a similar command.
    2. In chapter 6, the apostles were sent out as missionaries without provisions with the understanding that other people would provide for their needs— something that would have been impossible had everyone given away all of their [goods.] Similarly, 10:29 pictures a situation where followers of Jesus pool their goods and share them, which would be impossible if everyone had sold everything.
    3. In 14:3–9, a woman spends a year’s wages on anointing oil for Observers object that the woman should have sold the ointment and given the proceeds to the poor, echoing the commandment here. And yet Jesus defends the woman’s actions, strongly suggesting that the counsel to sell all is not universal.
    4. The man approached Jesus with a personal question (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”), not a general one (“What must one do?”), suggesting that Jesus’ answer would likewise be personal and not general.
  • We all need to take inventory of our lives and ask "what lack I yet?"  I love the examples given in this talk by Elder Larry Lawrence.  He explains:  "The journey of discipleship is not an easy one. It has been called a “course of steady improvement.”2 As we travel along that strait and narrow path, the Spirit continually challenges us to be better and to climb higher. The Holy Ghost makes an ideal traveling companion. If we are humble and teachable, He will take us by the hand and lead us home.  However, we need to ask the Lord for directions along the way. We have to ask some difficult questions, like “What do I need to change?” “How can I improve?” “What weakness needs strengthening?” . . . The Holy Ghost doesn’t tell us to improve everything at once. If He did, we would become discouraged and give up. The Spirit works with us at our own speed, one step at a time, or as the Lord has taught, “line upon line, precept upon precept, … and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, … for unto him that receiveth I will give more.”6 "
  • After the man goes away sorrowing, Christ says something that shocks the Apostles.  "It is easier for a camel to go through eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."  The student manual says, "Some have asserted that the eye of the needle was a small door in the Jerusalem city wall, requiring a camel to be stripped of its load in order to enter. There is no evidence that such a door ever existed. Others have proposed that altering one letter in the Greek text would change the scripture to mean that a rope, not a camel, would have to pass through the eye of a needle. However, when Jesus Christ referred to a camel passing through the eye of a needle, it was likely an example of hyperbole, an intentional exaggeration to teach “that a rich man shall hardly [with difficulty] enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). The Joseph Smith Translation adds, “With men that trust in riches, it is impossible; but not impossible with men who trust in God and leave all for my sake, for with such all these things are possible”
  • A camel was about the biggest animal the people would be acquainted with and the eye of a needle the smallest opening.  Definitely a word picture the people would remember!  In addition, camels were animals associated with wealth and trade, appropriate for the point Jesus is making.
  • After reassuring the disciples that "with God all things are possible," even a rich man entering heaven, Peter, who has probably been pondering on all that he has seen, asks, essentially, What about us?  We've given up a lot for you, what will be our reward?
  • Christ tells the apostles that they will sit upon thrones and be judges after the resurrection.  Then he adds what should be of great comfort to all of us, "every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."  No one will make sacrifices for the gospel of Jesus Christ without being compensated one day.  What a generous God we worship!

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, Matthew 20:1-l5

  • Thomas Wayment has a note saying that the wage paid in this parable is low based on some evidence from North Africa, but several other sources I read said it was a typical day's wages.  I lean towards the latter.
  • We know this story: the first laborers agree to work for a penny that day, then others are brought in at various times of the day, including some who labor just an hour.  Interestingly, only the first group is actually given a promise of a specific wage.  The others labor with the assurance that they will be paid "whatsoever is right."  At the end of the day, the householder, beginning at the last and moving to the first, pays everyone the same wage.  The ones hired first are angry that they don't get more, protesting that their employer had made them all equal, when they were the ones who had done the most work and borne the heat of the day.
  • My friend illustrated this parable in her family with a race as suggested in the manual. She put a bag of Kit-Kats on the counter and told her family the winner would get the candy.  During the race, her older kids rushed to be first and three of them almost tied, while her youngest two kids started to cry.  Then she got out more Kit-Kat bags and starting with the youngest gave everyone a bag.  It was interesting to hear her tell me how her kids reacted.  The winner told her he thought at first that he should at least get more Kit-Kats because he won, but he also felt bad because the younger kids had no chance to win.  It wasn't fair.
  • Which is part of the point of the story.  The way we mortals judge fairness and the way God does are not the same.  Just as my friend's children didn't all have the same chances to win the race, so the workers who were hired late were disadvantaged.  They had waited in the marketplace for hours hoping for a job and payment.  Had they been offered the job at the beginning, they would have taken it and been glad.  It reminds me of Doctrine & Covenants 123:12 "For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations . . . who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it"  There are many who live without the gospel who will receive it gladly, whether in this life or the next, and be made equal with those who have had it from the beginning.  
  • Elder Holland, of course, says it better:  "First of all it is important to note that no one has been treated unfairly here. The first workers agreed to the full wage of the day, and they received it. Furthermore, they were, I can only imagine, very grateful to get the work. In the time of the Savior, an average man and his family could not do much more than live on what they made that day. If you didn’t work or farm or fish or sell, you likely didn’t eat. With more prospective workers than jobs, these first men chosen were the most fortunate in the entire labor pool that morning.

    Indeed, if there is any sympathy to be generated, it should at least initially be for the men not chosen who also had mouths to feed and backs to clothe. Luck never seemed to be with some of them. With each visit of the steward throughout the day, they always saw someone else chosen.

    But just at day’s close, the householder returns a surprising fifth time with a remarkable eleventh-hour offer! These last and most discouraged of laborers, hearing only that they will be treated fairly, accept work without even knowing the wage, knowing that anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days."
  • I love the kindness, grace, and generosity the parable shows us.  God knows all our hearts and our circumstances.  Even if it is the eleventh hour, it is not too late for anyone.  It reminds me of the words of this hymn, written by Eliza R. Snow:
How great, how glorious, how complete
Redemption's grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet
In harmony divine!

  • The first laborers are naturally angry at the perceived unfairness.  After all, even monkeys get envious when they think someone else is being rewarded more than they are.  I've seen this kind of response in my children often.  They are completely happy and content until they learn that someone else got something they didn't.  
  • In response, I love that the householder calls them "friends" not servants.  
  • In Elder Holland's words, "As the householder in the parable tells them (and I paraphrase only slightly): “My friends, I am not being unfair to you. You agreed on the wage for the day, a good wage. You were very happy to get the work, and I am very happy with the way you served. You are paid in full. Take your pay and enjoy the blessing. As for the others, surely I am free to do what I like with my own money.” Then this piercing question to anyone then or now who needs to hear it: “Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?”

    Brothers and sisters, there are going to be times in our lives when someone else gets an unexpected blessing or receives some special recognition. May I plead with us not to be hurt—and certainly not to feel envious—when good fortune comes to another person? We are not diminished when someone else is added upon. We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed. The race we are really in is the race against sin, and surely envy is one of the most universal of those.

    Furthermore, envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously, we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us,but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment! To say nothing of the chagrin in the end, when we find that God really is both just and merciful, giving to all who stand with Him “all that he hath,”2 as the scripture says. So lesson number one from the Lord’s vineyard: coveting, pouting, or tearing others down does not elevate your standing, nor does demeaning someone else improve your self-image. So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind. It is a happy way to live."

Christ Foretells His Death, Matthew 20:17-19, Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34

  • These words were spoken alone to Christ's disciples.  
  • Luke points out that Christ is teaching them this would come about "as written in the prophets" yet still they did not understand.
  • Mark notes specifically that the chief priests and scribes will deliver Christ to the Gentiles who will mock, spit, scourge and kill him, while Luke leaves out the reference to who it is that delivers Christ to the Gentiles.
  • This article points out that suffering Messiah was not unknown among the Jews of the time, which we know from reading Isaiah, yet still the disciples could not understand what Christ was telling them.  Perhaps they didn't want it to be true. "Some scholars have long suggested that first-century Jews were expecting a militant messiah who would liberate them from Roman oppression, which is probably true for most, but also that the idea of Jesus as a suffering and dying Savior was invented in order to excuse his obvious failure to expel the Romans. Now, though, a Hebrew-language tablet dating to the early first century has been found that seems to speak not only of a suffering and dying messiah but even, possibly, of an expectation that he would rise from the dead after three days."

True Leadership, Matthew 20:20-28, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 22:24-27

  • The three gospels tell this story a bit differently.  In Matthew, it is the Mother of James and John who does the asking, while in Mark it is the disciples themselves.  Luke has the teachings of Christ that follow the request in the other two gospels, but doesn't tell us about the request.
  • As I read this, I was struck with Christ's patience with his disciples' weaknesses and audacity.  He is gentle and loving in his rebuke.  The place at his right hand and left is "not [His] to give."  But He does want them to follow Him completely.  He seems to lead them to the questions they should have asked, about their own commitment and willingness to follow, come what may.  And both reassure Christ that they will follow Him even to the drinking of His cup and enduring the pains he will endure.  And He prophecies that they will, indeed, be faithful to the end.  According to Josephus, James was stoned and clubbed to death.
  • Like the first laborers in the parable, the other disciples are angry at James and John.  So Jesus teaches them that the desire for power and position, common in the world, is not the way of His kingdom.  "But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;  And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:  Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
  • Wayment points out that the Greek word for "deacon" is the word used here for servant.  "The word typically describes someone who waits upon another person to help them, who waits tables, and who cares for the physical needs of another."  Doesn't that sound like a description of motherhood?  We are not diminished by serving and tending to the most basic needs of others, but elevated.  

Two Blind Men Healed, Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43

  • These stories differ in the gospels.  Matthew has two men healed by the Savior's touch, Luke has one unnamed man and Mark tells us the man's name is Bartimeas, which means son of honor.
  • What is the same in all three stories is that the blind man calls out to Jesus for mercy, is rebuked by the crowd, then cries out "so much the more" (Luke) or "a great deal" (Mark).  Don't we all need sometimes to ignore the crowd and to cry out the more for help for our own desperate situations?  To keep faith and hope in our desire for rescue from our blindness?  
  • All three stories also say that the man or men followed Jesus after having their eyes opened and Luke says that the people praised God.  
  • Adding this story to the experience of those who brought their children to Christ, we learn that Christ does not deny anyone who desires to come to Him.  No one is above His notice, and no one is beyond His reach.  As it says in 2 Nephi, "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."

The Parable of the Unjust Judge, Luke 18:1-8

  • This parable is only found in Luke.  Christ has just described the last days and how many will be oblivious to the signs of the times.  Luke tells us that He shares the parable with us so that we will learn to always pray, and not faint.
  • The parable tells of a widow who needs justice from her adversary.  She keeps coming to a judge, who finally, just to get rid of the annoyance, grants her plea.  If an unjust man will give in to someone who keeps asking him, won't God, who is perfectly just, also listen to those who continually pray?
  • At first, I couldn't understand why this parable was especially relevant to the last days or why Christ ends it by saying, "when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"  Then I realized that the widow was specifically asking for justice for the wrongs that have been done her.  The last days is the time when God has promised that all will finally be set right.  All of the prayers of those who have been oppressed and damaged will be answered.  If you think about all the horrible things that have gone on throughout the history of the world and how many prayers have ascended to God for justice, it seems to me that Christ is saying, "hold on to your faith.  Eventually, justice will come."  God is not unjust and in His timing, He will avenge His own elect speedily.  We need to hold on and have faith so that we may be found among the faithful when He comes again.

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, Luke 18:9-14

  • This is a parable given specifically to "unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others"  
  • We all might be prone to put a distance between us and those who we consider the worst of sinners.  This parable reminds us that the condition of our hearts is more important than our self-righteousness.  Compared to God, all of us fall far short.  We all need His grace.
  • President Ezra Taft Benson taught about this:  God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble. Alma said, “Blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble.” 

  • Let us choose to be humble.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by receiving counsel and chastisement.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by forgiving those who have offended us.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by rendering selfless service.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by going on missions and preaching the word that can humble others.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by getting to the temple more frequently.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by confessing and forsaking our sins and being born of God.

    We can choose to humble ourselves by loving God, submitting our will to His, and putting Him first in our lives. Let us choose to be humble. We can do it. I know we can.

Playlist of Videos for the week:

Saturday, May 11, 2019

“Rejoice with Me; for I Have Found My Sheep Which Was Lost," Notes on Luke 12–17; John 11, CFM study for May 6-12

A whole lot of chapters to study for this week, including many parables, prophecies of Christ's second coming, healings, and culminating in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Words of Counsel, Comfort and Courage; Luke 12:1-12 (see also Matthew 10:26-33), Luke 12:22-34

  • Christ warns against the Pharisees and then says that everything will one day be revealed and that "Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops."  This makes me wonder which actions of mine would I be ashamed to own before the world?  What do I say in private that I wouldn't want shared publicly?  Am I a better person in public than I am in private?  Someday we will be called to account for all of our deeds, even those we think are safely hidden away.
  • Christ then teaches his disciples to show courage in proclaiming His name.  He says not to fear those that can kill your body, but those who would destroy the spirit.  He says that God is watching over you, just as He knows the sparrows and the ravens and feeds them, even though they have no barns or storehouses.  He will watch over you and give you through the Holy Ghost the words to say.
  • Christ doesn't say "if" you are brought before those in power, but "when."  He is preparing His disciples for the hard times and helping them commit in advance to hold to the truth.  Will you deny him or confess Him when the stakes are highest?  
  • One of my favorite verses from this section is, "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God."  What a great promise!
  • The rest of this section includes more promises and comfort.  I love that He reminds his disciples that they don't need to worry so much about their temporal needs, not because these aren't important, but rather because they need to trust God:  "Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things."  God has us in the palm of His hand and we need to trust His grace and guidance instead of in riches.

The parable of the rich fool, Luke 12:13-21

  • This story is of a rich man who had so much he couldn't even hold it all.  So he tore down his barns to build bigger ones to hold all of his wealth, and told himself that now he could live a life of ease and luxury.  But God says to him instead, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?"
  • This parable seems to ask the question, "How much do you really need?" and "What are your highest priorities?"  This man wanted money so that he could relax and eat, drink and be merry.  He cared little for his soul or for those around them.  
  • This reminds me of a story then-Elder Nelson told, "Years ago, I was asked to perform an operation upon a very wealthy man. A surgical biopsy confirmed that he had an advanced cancer that had spread throughout his body. As I reported this news, his immediate response was to rely upon his wealth. He would go anywhere or do anything to treat his condition. He thought he could buy his way back to health. But he soon passed away. Someone asked, “How much wealth did he leave?” The answer, of course, was, “All of it!”  His priorities were set upon things of the world. His ladder of success had been leaning against the wrong wall. I think of him when I read this scripture: “Behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is … too late.”13
  • In contrast to this man, there are many who use their wealth to do great good.  When I was in Washington, D.C. last year, I went to the impressive Museum of the Bible.  It was made possible by the generous donations of many good people.  You wonder what the man in the parable could have done had he said, "I'm grateful I have enough.  Now, with my extra, I'm going to do good!"
  • How to handle wealth or poverty is a huge test in life.  It's good to take an inventory once in a while to see where your treasure is and what is most important to you.  If we have the attitude that all that we have and are is the Lord's, then we can regularly ask Him to lead us to ways we can serve others with whatever we are blessed with, whether it be time, talents, wisdom or money.

Watch and Be Ready, Luke 12:35-48 (see also Matthew 24:42-51, Mark 13:32-37)

  • I love that the story told here has a surprise ending.  It talks about faithful servants who wait hour after hour for their Lord, ready to open to him immediately when he returns.  Then the promise, "Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."  I'm sure Christ's audience did a bit of a double-take. Wait, the lord is going to serve them?  Aren't they the servants?  But he is talking here about the goodness of God and His matchless blessings to those who will be His servants.  He gives us more than we ever give to Him.
  • Peter wants to know if the parable is just for his closest disciples or for everyone.  His question could have many motives.  He could be wondering if the disciples will have some special reward because they are servants chosen to wait for the Lord.  Or He could be wondering about all the people who don't know that the Lord is coming.  What will happen to them?
  • In response, Christ contrasts wise versus wicked servants.  The wise wait and are ready, while the wicked begin to beat the other servants and to eat and get drunk.  Then Christ teaches that the harshest punishments will be dealt to those who knew what the master's will was and didn't do it, while those who were also wicked but didn't know the will of the master will receive a lesser punishment.  God's mercy and justice are fair and will be given to everyone, each according to his knowledge and understanding and faithfulness.  So yes, Peter, this parable is for everyone, and those of you who know me and then do wickedly are going to be in trouble.
  • Where "much is given, of him shall be much required." This is a sobering statement.  I often remind my kids of how blessed they are and how because of that, they will need to be ready to give their all where-ever they are called.  They haven't (yet) had to overcome the challenges of crushing poverty, chronic illness, disability, the absence of the gospel, or a broken home.  God will therefore expect more of them than one who is trying to overcome those and other deep problems.  We, of course, will also experience our trials and some of them may be harder than others, but I so hope that my kids will never think that they are better than someone else, but that instead, they will see their abundant blessings as God-given to them to bless others.

(Luke chapter 13 was included in the chapters about the Sermon on the Mount.  See this post for my notes.)

Healing on the Sabbath (again!), Luke 14:1-6

  • Do you get the impression that Christ is trying to make a point about the proper use of the Lord's day with all of these healings?  This time the healing takes place in the home of the Pharisees.  It's possible that the man was brought there just as a test to see what Christ would do.
  • Christ reminds the group that if their animals are in a pit on a Sabbath, they are rescued.  This man is also deserving of rescuing.

Humility, Luke 14:7-13

  • Then Christ watches the jockeying for position and prominence among those at the feast.  He tells them that instead of trying to have the best seat in a house, they should go to the lowest place and then wait to be asked into a higher.  
  • I love this!  I think sometimes we think that certain careers or callings in the Church are more important than others.  Christ teaches us that we shouldn't be concerned with our standing in the world or before others.  Instead, we should care about humbly serving wherever we can.  
  • That reminds me of this poem by an unknown author:
Father, where shall I work today?
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then He pointed me out a tiny spot,
And said, “Tend that for me.”

I answered quickly, “Oh, no, not that.
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me!”

And the word He spoke, it was not stern,
He answered me tenderly,
“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine;
Art thou working for them or me?

Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee."
  • I am also reminded of a story told by Elder Stanley G. Ellis:  "Another question is “Where are we needed?” For 16 years I served in the presidency of the Houston Texas North Stake. Many moved to our area during those years. We would often receive a phone call announcing someone moving in and asking which was the best ward. Only once in 16 years did I receive a call asking, “Which ward needs a good family? Where can we help?”  
  • Sometimes when I sign up to clean the Church, I think to myself, "I never want to be too good to clean the Lord's toilets."  Though, truthfully, I'm always happy when someone else has already taken that job and I can just vacuum.  :)
  • Last year, I was released as the gospel doctrine teacher in my ward and put in the Primary presidency.  At first, I was disappointed.  I was learning so much about the Old Testament and I adored teaching.  But I prayed specifically that this new calling would be my new favorite one and it was only a few weeks into it that I realized how much I love serving in the Primary.  It's a very special place to be with those little ones and teaching the basic principles of the gospel.  I can't tell you how many times I get choked up over the words of a simple Primary song or when I get to say something like, "Jesus loves you!" 
  • Are we seeking to go where we are needed?  Or are we more concerned about prominence or position?  Where we serve is not nearly as important as how we serve and why.
  • Verse 11 remind us, "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

The Parable of the Wedding Feast, Luke 14:12-24 (see also Matthew 22:1-14)

  • Just before this parable, Christ tells those who invited him to the feast that if they really want to do good and receive a reward in heaven, they won't invite their friends, family and rich neighbors.  Instead, they will invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind.  He says that those who invite friends have their friends reciprocate and therefore, they are paid.  But those who invite and do good to those who cannot reciprocate are rewarded in heaven instead.  This reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount where Christ says those that do their alms to be seen of men get their reward, presumably by being seen of men and getting their accolades, while those who do their alms in secret will be rewarded by God openly.  I'm also reminded that Christ teaches that it isn't praiseworthy to be nice to your friends -- even the most wicked people do that.  Instead, we need to love our enemies.
  • Sometimes I think I am doing so much service for others when I watch their kids or bring them a meal, but most of the people I do that for will reciprocate in kind in the future.  Which is not a reason not to do those things, but it does remind me that I need to be looking out for those who don't have friends, who don't have the means to reciprocate and serve them as well.
  • This parable has some very different details in Matthew.  There, it is specifically a wedding feast, the people don't just refuse to come, they slay the servants sent to invite them, and one of the guests is cast out because he wouldn't wear a wedding garment.  
  • Otherwise, the story is the same.  A man (Luke) or king (Matthew) prepares a feast and invites his honored guests.  Instead of coming, they make excuses.  So the man/king tells his servants to go into the streets and alleys and invite the poor and disabled and fills his house with people.
  • This is an allegory of the kingdom of God, where when the wise and learned and rich reject the invitation, it is then taken to the poor and beggars and they accept it.

Counting the Cost of Discipleship, Luke 14:25-33

  • This parable is one I've been thinking about a lot.  It wasn't one I remembered until reading it a few months ago.  Christ says that those who build a tower are going to first make the plan and make sure they can afford it lest they start and have to abandon it half-finished, to the mocking of their neighbors.  He also says a king doesn't jump into a battle until he counts the odds of winning.  If he is clearly going to lose, he makes a treaty instead.
  • In telling this to His disciples, Christ is telling them that they need to count the cost of being His disciples and be willing to give it.  Then He tells them exactly what it's going to cost:  Everything!  "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple."  
  • If we really want to be Christ's, we need to love Him above anything else.  And we should go into our covenant relationship with Him knowing that full and total commitment is what is asked.  

Three Parables about the Lost, Luke 15:12-32 (see also Matthew 18:12-14 for the first one)

* In this chapter, the Savior gives three parables about lost things.  All the stories are told in response to the Pharisees, who criticize him for eating with sinners.  Christ is teaching them about the joy and rejoicing we all should find in seeking out those who are lost and being with them.  Instead of avoiding those we consider to be in sin, we should seek them out and bring them home.
* The first parable is about a lost sheep.  The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine in the sheepfold and goes after that one that is lost.  We've talked a lot about sheep and shepherds the last few weeks.  See the beginning of this post for information about why sheep get lost.

  • The next thing that is lost is a coin, probably lost through carelessness of the woman.  So she sweeps the house searching for it and rejoices in its recovery and tells all her neighbors of her joy.
  • Unlike the lamb, which wandered off of its own accord, the coin was not an agent in its loss.  Sometimes people just don't know any better.  This could point to those who are lost because of the foolish actions of another.  Just as we should seek not to be offended, we also need to seek not to offend. 

  • The last story is about two sons who were lost.  We call the story "The Prodigal Son," but the second boy is also quite lost because of his pride and his disregard for his father.
  • I read a fascinating book last year about how we sometimes misinterpret scripture because we have cultural blinders on.  One point it made was about this very story.  "Mark Allan Powell had twelve students in a seminary class read the story carefully from Luke’s Gospel, close their Bibles and then retell the story as faithfully as possible to a partner. None of the twelve American seminary students mentioned the famine in Luke 15:14, which precipitates the son’s eventual return. Powell found this omission interesting, so he organized a larger experiment in which he had one hundred people read the story and retell it, as accurately as possible, to a partner. Only six of the one hundred participants mentioned the famine. The group was ethnically, racially, socioeconomically and religiously diverse. The ‘famine-forgetters,’ as Powell calls them, had only one thing in common: they were from the United States. Later, Powell had the opportunity to try the experiment again, this time outside the United States. In St. Petersburg, Russia, he gathered fifty participants to read and retell the prodigal son story. This time an overwhelming forty-two of the fifty participants mentioned the famine. Why? Just seventy years before, 670,000 people had died of starvation after a Nazi German siege of the capital city began a three-year famine. Famine was very much a part of the history and imagination of the Russian participants in Powell’s exercise. Based solely on cultural location, people from America and Russia disagreed about what they considered the crucial details of the story. Americans tend to treat the mention of the famine as an unnecessary plot device."
  • A famine isn't on our radar, but to an ancient people, the hunger, pain, death and devastation it wrought were all in their collective memories.  Desperate times can humble people and lead them back home, even if only for the physical nourishment they might find there.
  • Reading that book has helped me to try to overcome my own context to try to understand how a story would be understood at the time it was given.  Fortunately, there are many who have worked to put the story in the context of its time.  This article is particularly interesting.  Some of the insights I found most helpful pointed out how both sons insulted and disgraced their father but he still reached out to both.  The article also points out the significance of the father putting a robe on his son and giving him a ring and feasting.

  • The older son could very much be like the Pharisees that Christ is talking with.  Instead of rejoicing in the repentance of the sinners Christ eats with, they are resentful and expect something for themselves for their "faithfulness."
  • I listened to a Jewish scholar talk about these three parables once and she talked about how she sees the third one a bit differently.  The shepherd counted his 100 sheep and sought out the one that was lost.  The woman had ten coins and made sure to find all ten.  But the father, who had two sons, made a feast for one and forgot to invite the other.  She called this the "parable of the father who forgot to count."  We usually think of this parable with the father as being our Heavenly Father and this interpretation doesn't quite fit with that understanding, though it does make you think.  Why is it that the father doesn't send a servant to get his older son to join the feast?  Why does he have to find out from a servant the cause of the party?
  • Elder Holland spoke movingly about the second son and how he was lost in his jealousy, resentment, and anger:

This son is not so much angry that the other has come home as he is angry that his parents are so happy about it. Feeling unappreciated and perhaps more than a little self-pity, this dutiful son—and he is wonderfully dutiful—forgets for a moment that he has never had to know filth or despair, fear or self-loathing. He forgets for a moment that every calf on the ranch is already his and so are all the robes in the closet and every ring in the drawer. He forgets for a moment that his faithfulness has been and always will be rewarded. 
No, he who has virtually everything, and who has in his hardworking, wonderful way earned it, lacks the one thing that might make him the complete man of the Lord he nearly is. He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother. As his father pled with him to see, it is one who was dead and now is alive. It is one who was lost and now is found. 
Certainly this younger brother had been a prisoner—a prisoner of sin, stupidity, and a pigsty. But the older brother lives in some confinement, too. He has, as yet, been unable to break out of the prison of himself. He is haunted by the green-eyed monster of jealousy.2 He feels taken for granted by his father and disenfranchised by his brother, when neither is the case. He has fallen victim to a fictional affront. As such he is like Tantalus of Greek mythology—he is up to his chin in water, but he remains thirsty nevertheless. One who has heretofore presumably been very happy with his life and content with his good fortune suddenly feels very unhappy simply because another has had some good fortune as well.

  • Which son in the parable do you relate to most?  How can we learn to "come to ourselves" and return to God when we are in error and sin?  And how can we learn to be happy for the good fortune of our brothers and sisters and put aside our envy and competition?

The Parable of the Unjust Steward, Luke 16:1-13

  • At first, I had a hard time understanding this parable, which is only found in Luke.  A man has been a steward over a rich man's treasures.  He has been dishonest and his employer discovers it.  Knowing he will soon lose his job and feeling desperate about what he will do, he goes to men who owe debts to his master and reduces their debt.  This is so that they will owe him and will want to take him in when he is fired.  The master returns and commends the steward for his prudence.  
  • As I studied more, I learned that the steward had the power to reduce debts without being in the wrong.  But that isn't the real point of the story.  The real point is what Christ says about the parable.  He seems to be making several points:
  1. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light."  If a dishonest man can see far enough ahead to know he's going to need friends when he's in trouble, the disciples should also look ahead and be prudent.  It sounds to me as though Christ is also saying to remember to be good to those who might do you a favor someday.
  2. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much."  I started reading a book recently called Duped.  The author had been caught up in the lies her fiance had told her, spinning a story of being a spy and a hero when it was a lie.  So the author, a journalist, researched people who live double lives and their motivations.  It hasn't been that great so far and I probably won't finish it, but I did find the attitude of the author fascinating.  She distinguished between little lies and big ones, excusing a sexual dalliance on a business trip as "simply an escape from reality," and that she was going to talk about the big deceptions instead.  Her attitude was counter to what I have seen and what this scripture teaches.  People who justify themselves in small things are primed to justify themselves in big things.  The little things ARE the big things.  
  3.  "And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?"  If we expect God to reward us, we need to be faithful in whatever we have been given in life.  We follow the rules and laws of the world we live in, knowing that one day we will live in a more just and beautiful place.

Interaction with the Pharisees about kingdom of God, Luke 16:14-31

  • I love the story of the rich man contrasted with Lazarus.  
  • It's interesting that the rich man begs to be allowed, Jacob Marley-style, to have Lazarus go to his five brothers and warn them of what awaits them.  ("I wear the chains I forge in life!").  But the response is instructive and prophetic:  "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."  
  • Sometimes we might be tempted to think that a big show of God's power and force will persuade someone to believe.  But that's just not the case.  
  • In just a few short months, a man named Lazarus will be raised from the dead and the hard-hearted Pharisees will use that act as justification for killing Christ, not for believing.  Miracles don't cause people to believe, they follow those that already believe.

Unprofitable Servants, Luke 17:5-10

  • Luke likes to contrast addresses to Christ's critics with what Christ taught to his friends.  Addressing his disciples next, Christ warns them of sin, encourages forgiveness of those who repent and talks of faith as of a mustard seed.  
  • Then he talks of masters and servants.  Servants don't expect to come home from their work out in the fields and have their masters serve them.  Instead, they will come and serve at home. 
  • We should not think that we should be catered to and thanked for doing what is right.  The reward is in the work.  Doing what you are supposed to do is a start.  
  • As King Benjamin says, "I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his fcommandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.  And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bbless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast? 

Ten Lepers Healed, Luke 17:11-19

  • "Were there not ten cleansed?  But where are the nine?"  
  • There were ten lepers healed, but only one was made fully whole, and that was because he went to the Source of His blessings in gratitude.  The others, presumably, were too anxious to get to the priests and be declared clean so they could rejoin society.  There'd be time for thanking Jesus later, perhaps some thought.  Or perhaps they didn't think at all.

The Coming of God's Kingdom, Luke 17:20-37

  • The Pharisees ask about the kingdom of God and when it will come and are given a short answer.  Then later, Christ expands on the teaching to His disciples.  Just as some were oblivious in Noah's day, there will be many who will be that way in the last days.  
  • I think many of his disciples and the Pharisees still believed that Christ would set up his kingdom in their day.  They expected a conquering Messiah who would deliver them from their Roman overlords and establish the throne of David again.  They didn't understand yet that the kingdom, with Christ set up as our actual and ruling King, wouldn't come until the last days and Christ's Second Coming.  
  • Elder Holland spoke about having faith during the last days.  I loved this exchange he had,"Against that backdrop [of terror and turmoil in the world today], I know that many of you have wondered in your hearts what all of this means regarding the end of the world and your life in it. Many have asked, “Is this the hour of the Second Coming of the Savior and all that is prophesied surrounding that event?” Indeed, sometime not long after 9-11, I had a missionary ask me in all honesty and full of faith, “Elder Holland, are these the last days?” I saw the earnestness in his face and some of the fear in his eyes, and I wanted to be reassuring. I thought perhaps an arm around him and some humor could relieve his anxiety a little. Giving him a hug, I said, “Elder, I may not be the brightest person alive, but even I know the name of the Church.” We then talked about being Latter-day Saints."
  • Warning against being fearful of the events to come, he later says, "Drawing upon my vast background of children’s bedtime stories, I say you can pick your poultry. You can either be like Chicken Little and run about shouting “The sky is falling; the sky is falling” or you can be like the Little Red Hen and forge ahead with the productive tasks of living, regardless of who does or doesn’t help you or who does or doesn’t believe just the way you believe."

Lazarus Raised and the faith of Mary and Martha, John 11:1-44

  • This is the culminating seventh miracle/sign in the gospel of John.  Lazarus is the brother of Mary and Martha.  
  • Christ has raised the dead before, but more quietly, like with the daughter of Jairus, and more closely to the time of death, as with the widow's son.  This time, the healing is public, it is near Jerusalem where the leaders of the Jews seek a pretext for his death, and Lazarus had been dead and in the tomb for four days.  The Jews believed that a person's spirit stayed near the body for the first three days, so waiting this long, as Jesus deliberately did, shows complete and total power over death -- no "mostly dead" excuse can be made here!
  • Knowing the danger that awaits in Jerusalem, and perhaps remembering what Christ has said concerning his death, Thomas, often given the nickname Doubting, shows his character and courage, "Let us also go, that we may die with him."  Whatever fear or disbelief he displayed after the resurrection, he was willing to die with Christ.  We need to remember people for their best moments, even while we learn from their worst.
  • Mary and Martha demonstrate great faith and testimony.  
  • I love Martha's exchange with Christ:
    21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
    22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.
    23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.
    24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.
    25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
    26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 
    27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.
  • Her powerful declaration is as powerful as Peter's earlier in the scriptures. 
  • When Christ declares His power, she doesn't respond with faith in the what, but in the Who.  She knows that Christ has all power and that if he had come earlier, he could have saved Lazarus.  She believes that he is the Son of God.  But she doesn't know what will happen with her brother and her grief.  But faith isn't trusting in a certain outcome, it is believing that God has us in His hands and that He has perfect love.
  • I want to have faith like Martha's.
  • Mary then meets Christ and also declares that if He had come, He would have saved Lazarus.  It is easy to picture the hope and agony of those days as they waited for the healing power that they believed Christ would bring with Him.  But He doesn't come and Lazarus grows worse and then dies.  Their hearts are broken, and perhaps they have questions about why He delayed.
  • And then we have those three beautiful words, "Jesus wept."  Knowing what was to come and the joy His actions would bring, He still took the time to feel their pain and to mourn with them.  We, too, should throw our arms around our grieving brothers and sisters and weep with them.  Platitudes about how things will all work out or that their loved one is in a better place might not be as comforting as simply showing our love.
  • Christ thanks His Father for hearing Him.  We, too, should give glory to God when through our hands He performs His miracles.

Increasing Persecution, John 11:45-57

  • The Pharisees, after hearing of this miracle, decide that if Jesus is allowed to continue, everyone will believe in him and that the Romans will come and destroy their nation for setting up a new king.  So they justify themselves in their bloody plans by saying that it is better that Christ should die than that their nation should be oppressed or destroyed by Rome.  I wonder how much of their justification they actually believed.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

“I Am the Good Shepherd," Notes on John 7–10, CFM study for April 29-May 5

Unbelief among Christ's siblings, John 7:1-9

  • Christ's brethren, or his half-siblings, did not believe in him, though it appears that at least some were converted later (the Epistle of James was written by one of them).  Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56 give us their names as well as note unnamed sisters.  It would be so interesting to know more about that and what home life was like for them.  Many think that Mary was likely a widow by the time of Christ's ministry.  Did her status as a widow have some effect on her family and how they related to Jesus?  As oldest son, he would have been expected to be her caretaker.   
  • Why was it so hard to believe?  Was it their own jealousy and resentment?  Did Mary "keep all these things in her heart" her whole life and not share what she knew even with her children?  I think that is probably likely, at least for a time.  It would have been extremely difficult for the family had their neighbors known of the miraculous story of Christ's birth.  And I know from experience that once you tell kids something, it's only a matter of time before everyone knows.  That's why we never told our kids about a pregnancy until we were ready for everyone to know.
  •  It states several times that Nazareth didn't experience the miracles that other places did because of their own hard-heartedness.  It would be interesting to know how that affected Christ's half-brothers.
  • It seems that when his brothers insist He go up to the feast and do His works in public, they are taunting or challenging him.

Teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles, Christ is the Living Water, John 7:10-24, 7:37-39, 8:12

  • Christ goes quietly to the Feast of Tabernacles instead of going with his brothers.  This was a big gathering and a happy one.  Everyone gathered to Jerusalem in the fall to celebrate the harvest.  They stayed in booths, which is also translated tabernacles, to help them commemorate their forty years wandering in the wilderness.  Basically, they were huts made out of palm and myrtle.  I picture this as a huge, chaotic, happy camping trip to Jerusalem.  Naturally, the talk revolved around all the miraculous things done by this man called Jesus.  There were a lot of heated discussions and opinions about it.
  • Much of the rest of the chapter seems to be organized around Jesus saying something and the people misunderstanding it and arguing over who and what He is.  Remember, this is taking place just after John 6, where Christ declares himself to be the bread of life and people consider it to be a hard saying and some wonder how they can eat a person's flesh.    
  • Christ, who had come quietly to the feast, likely to avoid arrest, appears in the temple and begins to teach.  The people are astonished because He teaches so powerfully and yet they know He has not studied under their masters.  Christ's reply shows how He gives all the glory to God.  He speaks in such a way throughout these next chapters as could be understood in multiple ways.  "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.  If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)"
  • With this declaration, Christ gives everyone the way to discover for their own selves if what He says is true.  Again, like with the miracles, it takes faith and action before confirmation comes.  I have had that confirmation come in my life many times as I have acted on what I believe.
  • Sometimes people approach the gospel primarily with their rational minds.  They want to study and study until they know everything before they act.  But we have hearts as well as minds and both need to be engaged.  If we want to understand Christ, we first need to follow Him.  President Dieter F. Uchtdorf says, "For some, the act of believing is difficult. Sometimes our pride gets in the way. Perhaps we think that because we are intelligent, educated, or experienced, we simply cannot believe in God. And we begin to look at religion as foolish tradition.  In my experience, belief is not so much like a painting we look at and admire and about which we discuss and theorize. It is more like a plow that we take into the fields and, by the sweat of our brow, create furrows in the earth that accept seeds and bear fruit that shall remain.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. This is the promise to all who seek to believe."  Believing involves being engaged.
  • Christ teaches that he did right in healing on the Sabbath day, which we know from John 5:16 is one justification they have for trying to kill him.  He points out that they circumcise on the Sabbath when the 8th day falls on that day. 
  • On the last day of the feast, Christ declares Himself to be the living water.  Just as he is the bread of life, He also is living water.  He declared the same to the Samaritan woman at the well.  Right during the feast where they remembered their wandering in the wilderness and rejoiced in the harvest that grew with the rains and water, so Christ declared how to receive that living water for themselves.
  • The living water represents life and purity.  We who pull on a tap and have instant access to clean water and have the luxury of taking long showers probably cannot fathom what the symbol of "living water" meant for a people who had to draw their water from deep wells if there was not a spring, carry it home every day and ration carefully its use.  Clean, pure water means less disease.  It means life to needed seeds and crops.  
  • This article puts it beautifully:  My employment takes me to communities all over the world where people do not have access to clean water. . . Even in communities with numerous and wide-ranging problems, people always say that clean water is what they would like most.

  • I will always be grateful to a woman in Kenya, Africa, who taught me about willingness to work to obtain water. I met her at a celebration following the installation of a well in her community. With gratitude she told me that the new well would cut her daily nine-mile (14 km) trip to get water to a one-mile (1.6 km) trip. She was overjoyed at the opportunities that would now be hers.

    I couldn’t help but think how I would feel if I had to walk a mile to get water. I was impressed that she put everything—from housework to gardening—aside while she made her journey to fetch water. She knew she couldn’t complete the other tasks without that water. I thought about how heavy her burden was. Carrying water takes strength and endurance. Yet, for the sake of her family, she was willing to walk nine miles every day to get it.

    I wonder if we who get clean water from taps in our homes sometimes expect to come unto Christ with the same ease as turning a knob to get a glass of water. Or are we willing to put aside other tasks, even important ones, to seek to know Jesus Christ and His Father?
  • The New Testament student manual explains the context for these remarks and for Christ's later declaration to be the light of the world.
    Water and light were used as important symbols during the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Savior used these symbols to call the people to believe in Him as the Messiah. On the temple mount, four large golden candelabras (also called menorahs or candlesticks) illuminated the temple grounds during dances and other festivities held late into the night and early morning. The golden candelabras, which were 50 cubits tall (approximately 73 feet or 22.25 meters), not only provided light for the celebrations, but they symbolized that Israel was to be a light to those who walked in darkness. The most renowned and anticipated ceremony of the feast was the daily procession, during which an appointed priest drew water from the pool of Siloam with a golden pitcher and poured the water into the silver basin at the base of the temple altar, along with the morning wine offering.
    During “the last day, that great day of the feast,” after the crowds had celebrated the final pouring of the water, “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink” (John 7:37). His words are a fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 14:8 that when the Messiah comes, “living waters shall go out from Jerusalem.” Early in the morning of the next day, which would have been the Sabbath, the Savior again returned to the temple. As He taught near where the large golden candelabras stood during the feast, He declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). It is Jesus Christ who gives light to all.
  • The pool of Siloam, which will also play a part in the healing of the blind man in chapter 9, has an interesting part in the feast.  This video explains it well:

Conflict about Christ's Identity, an Attempted Arrest, and Increasing Persecution, John 7:25-36, 7:40-52, John 10:19-21, John 10:31-42

  • John notes at multiple points the reaction to Christ.  While some believe, others, including the Jewish leaders and the Pharisees, seek to kill him.  They even sent officers (also translated as servants) to take him into custody, but John tells us multiple times that they were thwarted because "his hour was not yet come," (John 7:30, 8:20).  It seems that something prevented them from carrying out their plans.  Verse 44 says that "some of them would have taken him, but no man laid hands on him" The servants return to the Pharisees empty-handed, saying, "Never man spake like this man" (John 7:46). In John 7:59, we have an echo of what happened in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry when they tried to throw him off a cliff.  This time, "they took up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by."  And then again in John 10:31-39, Christ escapes from those who pick up stones to throw at him.  
  • It seems like John is bringing great attention to the miraculous protection Christ received during this time in His ministry, perhaps to point out the truth of what Christ says about His death in John 10:18, "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father."
  • I have so much respect for what Nicodemus does in these passages (See my post here for more thoughts on Nicodemus)   When the Pharisees are gathered to accuse Christ, Nicodemus argues for fairness. "Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?" He receives mocking for it, but he says it nonetheless.  We all have similar opportunities to stand up for what is right even when it isn't popular.  We might similarly receive mocking words, but we have the power to make a difference and the call to do so.
  • It's interesting to study the arguments the Pharisees and others use to oppose Christ.  Some of them are used today by critics of the Church and of Christianity in general.  It seems that some of the arguments might have been sincere but others were used to try to confuse and lead astray those who did follow Jesus. Some seemed to be grasping at straws.  They had already decided against Christ and now they were just trying to come up with a reason.  Here are some of the arguments included in this week's reading.  Do you see any parallels to today?
  1. They know where Jesus is from (Nazareth), and they think that the Messiah will come from a place unknown.  (John 7:27).  So their expectations of what Christ should be got in the way of recognizing the actual Christ when He was among them.  What expectations do people carry today that keep them from recognizing truth?
  2. They know that the prophecy says Christ will be born in Bethlehem.  Since Jesus is from Nazareth, He can't be the Christ. (John 7:41-42).  In this case, they thought they had the right facts, but had they done some research or asked the right people, they would have known that they were wrong and Christ was actually born in Bethlehem.  What false narratives exist in our world that cause people to fall away from the truth?
  3. The Pharisees criticize, mock, and sneer at those who are sympathetic to Jesus, and claim that only the uneducated could believe in Him.  In one passage, they respond to the servants sent to arrest him who instead bring back word of his amazing teaching with, Are ye also deceived?  Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed. (John 7:47-49).  Then to the blind man who was healed by Christ, "they heaped abuse on him" (John 9:28).  When they can't win on truth -- a blind man was healed! -- they resort to attacking the believer.  What kinds of criticisms do believers endure today?  
  4. They accused Jesus of having no other witnesses to prove what He was saying, (John 8:13).  What kinds of additional witnesses do people demand today before they are willing to believe?  
  5. They say He is a Samaritan and possessed by a demon (John 8:48, John 10:20).  We don't use the words "Samaritan" as an insult now, but "bigot" and "brainwashed" might be modern substitutes.  What other insults are used to dismiss believers?
  6. They say Jesus is not of God because he healed on the Sabbath Day.  In this case, they have created a strange-to-us litmus test based on their oral tradition and understanding of the Sabbath.  What are the litmus tests that people use today?
  7. They accuse Him of blasphemy because He makes himself equal with God (John 10:33).  This is one I don't see with as much of a modern parallel.  In our secular age, many simply deny God exists at all.  Do you see a modern parallel here?

The Woman Caught in Adultery, John 8:1-11

  • Since this story is left out of some early manuscripts and appears in different places in others, it is thought not to be originally part of John's record.  But there are not a lot of early manuscripts with these chapters in John in the first place and this is a story referenced in the 200s and 300s, so it is likely a well-known part of the record.  It also fits with other stories where the authorities try to trick Christ, such as when they ask him about paying tribute to Ceasar.  
  • The Pharisees think they have a perfect catch-22 for Christ.  It isn't really about the woman at all for them.  They just want a pretext to accuse Jesus.  If he refuses to stone the woman, they can say He doesn't follow the law of Moses and therefore can't be the Christ.  If he condemns the woman to be stoned, He will both be going against the current tradition (stoning for adultery was abandoned by the Jews long before this) and against Roman authorities, who forbade such a punishment.  Either way, they think they will have caught him.
  • Had the Pharisees really been concerned with following the law of Moses, they would have brought the man as well as the woman.
  • I would love to know what it was that Christ wrote on the ground.  I am intrigued by some who say that the word in Greek used for "write" can also mean to "list."  It is possible Christ was listing the sins of the accusers as He wrote on the ground.  He could also have written a scripture verse that condemned the men.  When he tells the men that he who is without sin should cast the first stone, they realize their plot didn't work.  Beginning at the eldest, they depart.  Were they convicted of their sins?  Embarrassed?  The record doesn't say.
  • Beautiful compassion is shown to the woman, but also the injunction to "go, and sin no more."  He did not forgive or absolve her of her sins -- as He had done to many of those He encountered in life -- but He also didn't "condemn" her.  She was worth redeeming and she needed to start by abandoning her sin.  The JST of this verse adds, "And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name."  Here was one of the lost sheep who was brought home through the compassion and encouragement of Jesus.

Christ Declares He is the Light of the World and He Comes from Above, John 8:12-59

  • Christ declares, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12) and "Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23)
  • All of these bold statements about who He is and Who sent Him remind me of C.S. Lewis' quote from Mere Christianity, "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
  • I find it ironic that many who don't believe in Christ and don't think of Him as the Son of God nevertheless quote Him, often out of context, when it suits their purpose.  
  • My favorite verse in this section is where Christ says, "And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. As he spake these words, many believed on him. (John 8:29-30)"  Christ has qualified for the presence of His Father.  He does the Father's will and the Father is with Him.  We, too, can work to do God's will and please Him.  
  • I also love how Christ teaches those who believed Him that they needed to "continue in my word . . . and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."  (John 8:31-32).  Again, this shows that it isn't enough to believe.  We have to act on that belief and as we do so, we will know the truth.
  • While making pretty bold (but still veiled) references to His Father, Christ is also pretty bold in condemning the Pharisees by telling them, "I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father" and "Ye are of your father the devil."  Pretty hard words, but it is confirmed by the words of William Law, " If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.

A Question about a Blind Man and His Healing, John 9:1-7

  • It is common today as it was anciently for some to assume that when something horrible happens to someone, it is because of sin.  Like Job's friends, Jesus' disciples ask, "Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"
  • This verse implies that the disciples believed that sin was present in some form in our pre-mortal lives; otherwise, how could the man be responsible for a sin that caused him to be born blind?
  • Before my oldest was born, I taught Seminary to special education students for a year and a half.  During that time, these verses became precious to me.  "Why me?" is such an easy question for parents to ask when children are born with severe disabilities.  Here, Christ makes it clear that "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him."  
  • Elder Faust says this about these verses, 
How are the works of God manifest in these, our handicapped brothers and sisters? Surely they are manifested greatly in the loving care and attention given by parents, other family members, friends, and associates. The handicapped are not on trial. Those of us who live free of such limitations are the ones who are on trial. While those with handicaps cannot be measured in the same way as others, many of the handicapped benefit immensely from each accomplishment, no matter how small.

The handiwork of God is manifest with respect to the handicapped in many ways. It is demonstrated in the miraculous way in which many individuals with mental and physical impediments are able to adjust and compensate for their limitations. Occasionally, other senses become more functional and substitute for the impaired senses in a remarkable way. A young friend greatly retarded in speech and movement repaired a complicated clock although she had had no previous training or experience in watch or clock making.
Many of the special ones are superior in many ways. They, too, are in a life of progression, and new things unfold for them each day as with us all. They can be extraordinary in their faith and spirit. Some are able, through their prayers, to communicate with the infinite in a most remarkable way. Many have a pure faith in others and a powerful belief in God. They can give their spiritual strength to others around them.
  • In my daily interactions with those special education students, I felt powerfully the love that God had for them and I often felt that I was in the presence of powerful souls that had much to teach me.
  • All sorts of bad things happen to good people, not because of sin but because it is part of mortality and the purposes of God.  I think sometimes we want to find a reason that other people experience tragedy so that we can reassure ourselves that we are not vulnerable to the same thing.  Perhaps that's why people are so quick to blame parents when children die in unexpected ways.  "Where was the mom?  That child wasn't being watched closely enough," some smugly say, as if nothing bad could ever happen to a child of an attentive parent.  Or "That's what you get for (insert some parenting decision or practice they don't do)."  Instead of mourning with those who experience tragedy, they seek to explain why it happened in an easy "this will never happen to me" fashion.  
  • I wonder why the man was anointed with spit and mud and then told to wash in the pool of Siloam.  Christ had the power to heal him in any way he chose.  Using this way could have been for many reasons, such as:
  1. It allowed the man to exercise his faith as part of the healing.  He didn't have to go to the pool; he could have dismissed the idea and the Man who gave it, but he did his part by obeying the simple instructions.  Reminds me of Naaman, who washed seven times in the Jordon river.
  2. It made it so the healing took place away from where Christ was.  The subsequent questioning of the man caused his own courage and faith to be tested and gave the Pharisees the chance to question him without being in Jesus' presence.  This separation was perhaps symbolic and might be the perfect illustration of what Christ said about "doing his will [to] know of the doctrine" in chapter seven.  This man had to both obey the instructions that he had been given in order to be healed and then persist on in his faith in Christ before Christ again "found him."
  3. The pool of Siloam, as we discussed above, has symbolic meaning.  It was a pool made of water that sprung out of the ground near the base of the temple.  The Gihon spring that filled the pool after flowing through Hezekiah's Tunnel, was also where Solomon was anointed king. There are multiple allusions and symbolism with living waters flowing from the base of the temple.  This article, for example, explains that the springs of Gihon, which filled Siloam and sustained Jerusalem with a clean source of freshwater, were the same that were referenced in Ezekial 47, where he saw a vision of Jerusalem as a temple in the last days with a spring of water flowing out of it that increased in volume as it went along, though there were no tributaries.    Elder Renlund spoke about Ezekial's vision and said, "Two characteristics of the water are noteworthy. First, though the small stream had no tributaries, it grew into a mighty river, becoming wider and deeper the farther it flowed. Something similar happens with the blessings that flow from the temple as individuals are sealed as families. Meaningful growth occurs going backward and forward through the generations as sealing ordinances weld families together.

    Second, the river renewed everything that it touched. The blessings of the temple likewise have a stunning capacity to heal. Temple blessings can heal hearts and lives and families

Conflict with the Pharisees and the Testimony of the Formerly Blind Man, John 9:8-41

  • I love how much "screen time" is given to this man who was blind.  The whole chapter is concerned with him.  
  • The man starts out unwilling to condemn the man who healed him but not quite sure what or Who he was.  As he is questioned, his conviction grows.  At first, he says, "A man that is called Jesus made clay and anointed mine eyes and . . . I went and washed and I received sight" (John 9:11).  Then he is brought to the Pharisees, who tell him Jesus can't be of God because he did the healing on the Sabbath.  He says in response, "He is a prophet."  They call him again after questioning his parents (who weasel their way out of saying anything definitive) and he says, "Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see," and "Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes . . . If this man were not of God, he could do nothing."  
  • His continued faith in what he believed and what had happened, despite opposition, his parents' non-commitment, being rejecting and being cast out, was rewarded when Jesus found him.  I love that we have yet another example of Christ seeking someone out who is ready to believe in him.  The exchange is poignant: 
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?
He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?
And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee.
And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. (John 9:35-38)
  • The exchange is even more powerful because this is the first time the man has ever seen Jesus.  He was still blind when he walked away from Christ with the mud on his eyes. 
  • The final words of the chapter contrast the blindness of the Pharisees who claim to see and know the scriptures and the commandments yet are blind to Jesus the Christ with those who are blind through no fault of their own who will be made to see through Christ.  
  • It is both a warning against pride and willful blindness and also a reminder that we will one day be judged according to our own circumstances and knowledge.  If the Pharisee truly were blind, they would have no sin, but because they pridefully claim to see, they are in sin.  They had every opportunity to see.  They had the scriptures, their knowledge, and many witnesses, yet they refused to see.

The Good Shepherd, John 10:1-18, 22-30

  • There has been so much written about the imagery of shepherds and how Christ is the good shepherd caring for his flock.  I wrote last week about what I'd learned about the nature of sheep and their need for a shepherd. 
  • The first passage, contrasting the real shepherd with the thieves and robbers, comes right after Christ criticized the leaders of the Jews for their willful blindness.  
  • Christ first establishes that the shepherd comes in through the door of the sheepfold and not through some other way.  Bandits come in ways that are unauthorized and come with the intent to harm or steal, not to protect and shelter.  It seems that Christ is contrasting his loving care with the brash, rude disregard for the welfare of their flock that the Pharisees demonstrate.  Look at how they treated the blind man.  Instead of rejoicing with him over his miracle, they demand explanations, disbelieve him, mock him, and then cast him out.  Is that the behavior of a shepherd or a bandit?
  • The sheep know their shepherd's voice and he "calls them by name."  It isn't just "hey you, get over here."  The sheep are known and have names.  As a mother of a large family, I think sometimes of how to people outside our family, our kids are just a mass of kids, a large number to remark on.  Yet to my husband and I, each one is known, loved, prayed for, instructed, cared for, and nurtured.  I wrote about this feeling ten years ago after my seventh child was born:  
    Recently, a dear friend looked at Harmony and said with a smile, "Well, if you've seen one, you've seen them all." She meant, of course, that my children look alike, that they share common features and facial expressions. She meant it as a compliment. I smiled and said, "yes, they do look alike, don't they?" but inside, my whole soul was rebelling. No, I thought, you haven't seen them all. This one is unique and different and special, and so are all the others. This is Harmony. Not the same song, different verse. A whole new being. A symphony of sound and grace and personality and life. A child with her own unique gifts and talents and mission in life. A child who will bless the world with her presence, who will touch and lift people with her goodness. A child. A child.

    I feel the same way about each of my children. Lillian. Joseph. Michael. Allison. Sarah. Eliza. Harmony [and I could add now, Katie, Cami, Benji and Gideon]. Even the two who grew together in my womb and gasped for their first breath in the same sacred moment -- the two who share the same genes, the same DNA. They are each precious, unique, and special. A child. A child. They came together in the special miracle that is twinship, but they are each beloved, each unique and distinct. Every member of our family knows them as separate individuals, despite their look-alike faces." 

They might look alike, but they are unique and cherished!
  • As much as I love and honor and know each of my children by name, I know that God knows them even better and loves us all on an infinitely higher level.  

  • Christ declares that He is the door of the sheep.  I want to ponder a lot more on what this might mean.  President Ezra Taft Benson said, "In Jesus’ time, the Palestinian shepherd was noted for his protection of his sheep. Unlike modern sheepherders, the shepherd always walked ahead of his flock. He led them. The shepherd knew each of the sheep and usually had a name for each. The sheep knew his voice and trusted him and would not follow a stranger. Thus, when called, the sheep would come to him. (See John 10:14, 16.)

    At night shepherds would bring their sheep to a corral called a sheepfold. High walls surrounded the sheepfold, and thorns were placed on top of these walls to prevent wild animals and thieves from climbing over.

    Sometimes, however, a wild animal driven by hunger would leap over the walls into the midst of the sheep, frightening them. Such a situation separated the true shepherd—one who loved his sheep—from the hireling—one who worked only for pay and duty.

    The true shepherd was willing to give his life for the sheep. He would go in amongst the sheep and fight for their welfare. The hireling, on the other hand, valued his own personal safety above the sheep and would usually flee from the danger.

    Jesus used this common illustration of his day to declare that He was the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd. Because of His love for His brothers and sisters, He would willingly and voluntarily lay down His life for them. (See John 10:17–18.)"
  • Verse 10 warns about the motives of thieves versus the good shepherd, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."  This is another example of Christ reminding us that there are many who would deceive, hurt, and destroy.  How do we recognize these destroyers for what they are?  How do we keep them from influencing us?
  • In contrast to the good shepherd, who stays and will give his life to protect the sheep, a hireling will flee at danger.  Elder Bruce C. Hafen related this passage to marriage, "Marriage is by nature a covenant, not just a private contract one may cancel at will. Jesus taught about contractual attitudes when he described the “hireling,” who performs his conditional promise of care only when he receives something in return. When the hireling “seeth the wolf coming,” he “leaveth the sheep, and fleeth … because he … careth not for the sheep.” By contrast, the Savior said, “I am the good shepherd, … and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Many people today marry as hirelings. And when the wolf comes, they flee. This idea is wrong. It curses the earth, turning parents’ hearts away from their children and from each other."
  • Verses 14-15 says, "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep." This reminds me of the Great Intercessory Prayer, where Christ pleads for the At-One-Ment of all of us, that we might come to be One with Him as He is One with His Father.  It is only through His redeeming act of laying down His life for us that we have the possibility of entering through the gate and into that great unity.
  • At the feast of Dedication, Christ continues the shepherd theme by saying that the Jews do not understand or believe "because ye are not of my sheep."  His sheep know His voice and He knows them and they follow him (John 10:22-27).  How is it that we can come to be one of His sheep and to know the voice of our shepherd?  How do we become more in tune with his voice?

Videos to Watch this week:


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