Notes on Matthew 14-15, Mark 6-7, John 5-6, Come Follow Me Study for March 25-31
This week's reading was so dense and full of beautiful stories and wonderful applications -- the feeding of the 5,000, Christ and Peter walking on water, the healing of a Gentile woman's daughter and a deaf and mute man as well as multitudes, the feeding of the four thousand, the pool of Bethesda, and the Bread of Life Sermon. I feel a bit overwhelmed in trying to reduce my thoughts down to just the highlights!
John the Baptist's Beheading, Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-30
- The story illustrates the power of good people to influence even a very wicked man. Herod would have put John to death but "he feared the multitude because they counted him as a prophet." If there hadn't been good people following John, Herod would have not held back from putting him to death for telling the truth about his unlawful marriage.
- The story also illustrates the power of peer pressure for evil, as Herod beheads John for "the oath's sake, ad them with sat with him at meat." He didn't want to lose face with his dinner guests, those who had heard his oath to Salome to give her whatever she wanted.
- The application in our lives is pretty clear. We need to do good things because they are right, no matter what the crowds and multitudes might think. And we need to be careful that we don't allow our desire to please those around us keep us from doing what is right.
- We can learn from John the Baptist's example to speak the truth and let the consequences follow. And that God allows bad things happen to good people.
- "When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart" Once again, Christ seeks time alone. His ministry included so much healing and teaching, but it also included time to commune and pray and seek His Father. Do I take that same time to turn off all the distractions in my life and really pray? Or do I fill up every moment with entertainment, media, internet, etc.?
Feeding the 5,000+
- Christ went to a place apart, but he is followed by the crowds. I wonder if some of them heard of John the Baptist's death and sought understanding of it through Christ. Certainly, others came for the healing He could bring to them and their loved ones. Still others wanted Him to be their ruler -- it says in John 6:15 that after he fed the 5000, "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone."
- Instead of annoyance at the crowd for disturbing Him, He was moved with compassion.
- The feeding of the 5000 is one of the few miracles found in all four gospels. It was the sign to many of the people that this was the Messiah, the new Moses who gave them manna. John 6:14 "Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world."
- I heard someone comment that when Christ commanded them to gather up the fragments that remain, He was teaching us not to waste. That may be, but I think the larger message of the twelve baskets is as a witness of the incomparable generosity of God. Not only did He magnify the humble loaves and fishes into enough to feed the entire multitude, He gave so much that there was plenty left over. It reminds me of the scripture in Luke 6:38 " Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." God gives us so much that we don't have room enough to receive it!
- I have often seen and felt that as I do my small part and bring what I can to my work as a mother, as a teacher, as a friend, then Christ takes that humble offering and makes it enough. This talk by Elder Faust beautifully illustrates this concept:
"Many nameless people with gifts equal only to five loaves and two small fishes magnify their callings and serve without attention or recognition, feeding literally thousands . . . Any man or woman who enjoys the Master’s touch is like potter’s clay in his hands. More important than acquiring fame or fortune is being what God wants us to be. Before we came to this earth, we may have been fashioned to do some small good in this life that no one else can do. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). If God has a work for those with many talents, I believe he also has an important work for those of us who have few.
- One of my favorite applications of this story comes from Jaroldeen Edwards (though I should say I'm a mom who makes the kids pack their own lunches!):
My daughter Julia, who is expecting her tenth child, makes seven school lunches every morning. It is a job she has disliked so much it was hard for her to get out of bed, because the chore of making sack lunches is the first chore she faces every day. . . .
Lunches were a chore for Julia that made every morning less than joyful until the Sunday that her eight-year-old son came home from church and had the following conversation with his mother.
'What was your Primary lesson about today?' his mother asked.
'Oh, you know,' young Weston said in an offhand way. 'It was that story that everybody knows. You know. The one about the time Jesus was walking around the Sea of Galilee and all these thousands of people came walking after him, and they listened to him for most of the day, and then it got hot and late and they were all tired and hungry and there wasn't any food at all.
'Except, you know, for this one little boy, and his mother had remembered to pack his lunch, and so he had some loaves and fishes, and Jesus took them and fed all those people.'
My daughter told me this incident, and there were tears in our eyes. 'His mother had packed his lunch.'
'So you see, Mother,'Julia said, 'I have learned to like making lunches now, because I realize that when I'm feeding my children, I am feeding the five thousand—-and more. It makes me think of all the hundreds of people my children's lives will touch through the years, and I am making that possible by nourishing them as they grow up.'
'Lunches are a whole new experience since I have thought of that unknown mother in Galilee who made a lunch for her little boy, and her son gave it to the Savior, and the Savior fed five thousand people with it.'
Walking on Water (Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-53)
- I love that in order to finally get his time alone to pray, He sends the multitudes away and sends His disciples on ahead on a boat. Then presumably, He occupies most of the night with communing with His Father.
- There is a lot of imagery in these two episodes -- the feeding of the multitude and the crossing of the sea -- of the Exodus. Just as Moses crossed the Red Sea miraculously, so Christ did the same. In Mark, it implies that the disciples on the boat should have already known from the miracle of the loaves that Christ was the Messiah. But they did not. It says, "And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered [or understood] not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened."
- For Family Home Evening this week, we listened to some of this devotional by Michael Wilcox that I referenced in one of my earlier posts. It's good so I will post it again!
"The phrase “the fourth watch” comes from the account in Mark, and others in the New Testament, where the Savior during the day has fed the 5,000 and He sends the Apostles down to the Sea of a Galilee while He’s going to dismiss the multitude. Then He will pray, and the Savior will often pray a long time. So it’s late afternoon, early evening, when the Savior sends the Apostles down to the ship and they get in it and a storm comes up.
The phrase that Mark uses is “the wind was contrary to them and they toiled in rowing against the wind.” That expression is so fit for so many of us in our lives, I know in my own life, and I look at my children’s lives; we toil in rowing against the wind. There’s blessing we want but don’t have, there’s a trial we want over that isn’t over yet. In John’s account they row for about the equivalent for 75 football fields against the wind, and they’re discouraged, they’re tired. Hope is starting to wane. In Mark’s account I think one of the first things that really gives me comfort is that he says He saw them toil in rowing, He saw them. I’ve been to the Sea of Galilee a number of times and you can see the hills around the lake. I picture Him up there looking down on them, but they don’t know He’s looking down on them. Sometimes in our own lives He’s looking, He’s watching, He sees us toiling and rowing–we may not always realize that He sees us. And then it says that in the fourth watch of the night He came to them walking on the water.
The Hebrew day is roughly divided into 12 hours; six in the morning, roughly, was the first hour, so the sixth hour is noon, the ninth hour is about three in the afternoon. The night was divided into four watches; roughly six at night to nine at night, nine to midnight, midnight to three, the fourth watch–three in the morning to sunrise. And it’s in the fourth watch that He comes.
So I often say to myself and to others, we worship a Fourth-Watch God. In many areas of our lives He seems to allow us to toil in rowing against the wind. There must be something good in developing spiritual muscle. The problem is that I’m usually a first-watch person, or a second-watch person. And when the third watch starts, and He’s not come and my trial is not over and my blessing is not arrived, we may begin to make some assumptions that are dangerous. We may begin to assume that He’s not there, or that He’s there but doesn’t care, or He’s not listening, or maybe the most dangerous assumption ‘I’m not worthy.’ And I think the correct assumption I try to make–in my own fourth-watch times or with my children or friends–He’s there, He listens, He cares, we’re as worthy as we can be. We’ve not yet reached the fourth watch, and when we reach the fourth watch, He will come.
- Peter walked on water but when he saw the winds he became afraid. As the mother of eleven kids, each of whom I feel strongly I was supposed to bring into my family, I have had many experiences like Peter's, where I know I'm supposed to have a baby or keep this family together and initially I feel as if the Lord will support me in the challenging task I've taken on, but then as time goes on and I see the "winds boisterous," I start to falter. The winds in my life are usually exhaustion, overwhelm, worry, and never-ending hard work. Am I really enough for this task? I wonder. I am so thankful that in my moments of doubt and weakness, Christ is still there for me as Christ was for Peter, reaching out his hand to him, saving him from drowning and giving him a gentle rebuke. In the same way, I have felt the Spirit's guiding influence in my moments of inadequacy telling me that while it is true I am not enough for this, I am not doing this alone. With Christ's help, I can do everything that I need to do.
|The Hand of God by Yonsung Kim|
- I love the words of Elder Maxwell, who reminds us that we are all imperfect and that we should celebrate Peter's walking on water more than we condemn his faltering:
Likewise, unremembered by some is the reality that in the kingdom we are each other’s clinical material; the Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a “student” rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.
Often unallowed for, too, are the differing styles of leadership we experience in the kingdom. Paul was thoughtfully sensitive to the need not to offend weak members by eating meat (see 1 Cor. 8:13), while John the Baptist’s diet of locusts and wild honey may not have proven contagious—surely not with Jerusalem’s country club set.
It is our individual and constant responsibility to avoid “looking beyond the mark.” (Jacob 4:14.) My focus is my responsibility! What is most to be focused on—the fact that Peter walked briefly on the water or that he did not continue? Has any other mortal so walked, even that briefly?
Imperfect people are, in fact, called by our perfect Lord to assist in His work. The Lord declared to certain associates of Joseph Smith that He knew that they had observed Joseph’s minor imperfections. Even so, the Lord then testified that the revelations given through the Prophet were true! (See D&C 67:5, 9.)
Unsurprisingly, therefore, we do notice each other’s weaknesses. But we should not celebrate them. Let us be grateful for the small strides that we and others make, rather than rejoice in the shortfalls. And when mistakes occur, let them become instructive, not destructive.
Encounter with a Gentile Woman, Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30
- When I was a teenager, I read the story of the Gentile woman coming to Christ and I was rather bothered by it. It didn't fit with my picture of who and what Christ was. A Gentile woman comes to Christ begging for healing for her daughter only to be told, "It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs." She responds humbly, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table." Only then does Christ say, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
- Truthfully, the story still doesn't sit well with me. I understand some of the principles and interpretations, but I can't help but think that there is more to the story than what is told here. In the absence of that, I will give a few ideas
- While we recoil at the thought of someone being called a dog, it was not necessarily an insult. According to Thomas Wayment, the form of the verb used is in diminutive form, so more like a household pet than some feral animal. If we substitute the word "kitten" for the word we might be able to get a better idea of what it might have meant in the original exchange. Even so, it is clear that the woman seems to be asking metaphorically for a seat at the table and Christ is telling her she is not in a position to ask for that.
- Matthew gives us a short explanation of the exchange when it quotes Jesus in verse 24 as saying, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The time of the Gentiles has not yet come. The gospel has to be offered first to the house of Israel and then later to the whole world. But why would this preclude Christ healing the woman who came to him? Especially given that it is likely he has healed other Gentiles in the past -- the man with the legion of devils was probably a Gentile, as was (possibly) the Centurion's son. Could she have been asking him to take time away from his other pressing needs? Was this an instance where if He had gone with her as she perhaps had asked (but is not recorded), He would have left something even more important undone? As a mom with more to juggle in the course of a day than I can actually do, I understand competing priorities and the need to say "no" at times.
- Some scholars believe this exchange was meant not to insult the woman, but to test her faith. We know that Christ does use this technique at times because during the feeding of the 5000 as recorded in John 6:5-6, "[Jesus] saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do." In that instance, Christ used the question to see how the disciples would respond. I personally lean to this interpretation of the Gentile woman's story. From what is written in scripture, the exchange was short and in the end, the woman received the great blessing for which she sought, plus praise for her great faith. Because she was willing to accept the smallest crumb, she got the feast that she desired -- her daughter was made whole.
- In keeping with this reading, this scripture has great meaning for me. Do I have faith enough to accept crumbs from the table of God? Or would I go away offended that I was not given prime seating at the banquet? It's hard to be a person today without having a certain amount of entitlement, having grown up in a culture that celebrates individuality and even has a saying that "the customer is always right."
- Sometimes it might feel like God is giving us crumbs when we desire a feast. We may want to be married and haven't found a spouse. We may have married but our spouse did not turn out anything like what we hoped for. We may want children and be forced to endure miscarriage after miscarriage. We may desire financial security only to suffer job loss and poverty. We may be blindsided by chronic illness or disability. In such times, are we willing to accept what God is offering to us? Or do we turn away, offended that our lives didn't turn out the way we thought we deserved?
- Of course, I don't believe in a God who gives only gives crumbs. He gives us good gifts, but "Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith." (Mosiah 23:21) If we can hold on to what we know while we endure whatever we feel is unfair or unjust about life, we will eventually see how our trials fit into God's plan.
- This reminds me of a story told by Elder Gordon B. Hinckley as referenced here:
Then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of meeting a young naval officer from Asia. The officer had not been a Christian, but during training in the United States, he had learned about the Church and was baptized. He was now preparing to return to his native land.
President Hinckley asked the officer: “Your people are not Christians. What will happen when you return home a Christian, and, more particularly, a Mormon Christian?”
The officer’s face clouded, and he replied: “My family will be disappointed. … As for my future and my career, all opportunity may be foreclosed against me.”
President Hinckley asked, “Are you willing to pay so great a price for the gospel?”
With his dark eyes moistened by tears, he answered with a question: “It’s true, isn’t it?”
President Hinckley responded, “Yes, it is true.”
To which the officer replied, “Then what else matters?”
- I believe that each of us will have times in our lives when our faith is tested, just like the woman's was. If we are humble and willing to accept whatever God wills for us, we will one day be astonished at the generous compensatory blessings we receive.
- One final note -- there is one other mention of "crumbs" in the New Testament, and it is where Christ tells the story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. In that story, Lazarus endures torment in life "desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table," but the rich man ignores him. After both die, Lazarus is brought "into Abraham's bosom" while the rich man is in hell. This reminds me of a quote by Elder Joseph Wirthlin: The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.
Confrontations with Jewish Leaders about Traditions, Matthew 15:1-20, Matthew 16:1-12, Mark 7:1-23,
- There are multiple confrontations with the Pharisees and Jewish leaders in these sections. They condemn Christ and his disciples for not doing a ritual washing before meals, which was part of their oral law and not the original law of Moses. Christ condemns them for following a tradition that allowed a son to pledge his property to the temple after he died and therefore be rid of the requirement to take care of his aged parents instead of following the law in the scriptures.
- This makes me remember that at times, the details of how we implement a commandment can change and that we don't need to get so fixed on one way of doing things that we mistake the way we follow a commandment for the actual commandment. With many wonderful and exciting changes in our Church, I see a lot of traditions and cultural practices getting simplified and rearranged. I love what Sister Nelson said of her husband, "He's not interested in cutting the ham to fit inside of the pot anymore. And he's not just about, 'If it was tradition, let's do something different.' It's, 'Let's look at why we were doing that.' And that's what's caught his attention over and over again."
- Christ also warns his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. I think today, we also need to beware who and what we listen to and allow to influence us. Some people sow poison and actively work to destroy faith but have nothing to take its place. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks says, "
We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all ofthis information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choosesources for that search. We should not consider secular prominence or authorityas qualified sources of truth. We should be cautious about relying on informationor advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes, or anonymousinternet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truthin other subjects.
We should also be cautious about the motivation of the one who providesinformation. That is why the scriptures warn us against priestcraft (see 2 Nephi26:29). If the source is anonymous or unknown, the information may also be suspect.
Our personal decisions should be based on information from sources that are qualified on the subject and free from selfish motivations.
- When Christ heals the man at the pool of Bethesda, the Jewish leaders get angry because the man is carrying his bedroll on the Sabbath! Straining at gnats and swallowing camels, that's the way they roll. I also think Christ deliberately works on the Sabbath because it is the Lord's Day. He tells the Pharisees who criticize that as his Father works on the Sabbath, so He will work. This makes them even angrier because he is speaking blasphemy in declaring His Sonship.
- This video shows the contrast well between the caring of Christ and the criticism of the Jewish leaders:
Healings and More Healings, John 5:1-15, Mark 7:31-37
- Christ heals multitudes and all who come to him in these chapters, but we also have some beautiful, intimate encounters he has with individuals.
- The man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15), who had an infirmity for 38 years, was healed by the master's touch and not by some superstition he had been hoping for. I love that it says in John 5:14, "Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." The man didn't know who it was that helped him, but Christ came and found Him as he was at the temple. This man would have been unable to go to the temple to worship for 38 years, so it is beautiful to me that he goes there soon after his healing. But I also love that Christ sought him out, and I believe He will seek us out as we seek for Him.
- There is a note in my Wayment translation that says that the warning "lest a worse thing come" doesn't imply that the man's original infirmity was given to him because of sin, but instead, that being caught up in sinful ways is a worse thing than being physically infirm.
- In Matthew 14:36, it says that those who touched the hem of his garment were made whole. I think it's interesting how Christ uses various means to heal. Sometimes he physically touches a person, other times they touch His clothes, and still other times He heals from a distance at a word. (The Twelve are said to anoint with oil, which represents Christ's Atonement, when they go out healing). The act of coming to Christ and exercising faith, whether it be faith in his touch or faith in the power of His clothing, is what is essential, not the specific way one is healed.
- Along those lines, I love the healing of the man who is blind and dumb in Mark 7:31-37. It says that Christ took him aside from the multitude and put his fingers in the man's ears and touched his tongue. The man would not have understood any words Christ spoke, but he could see and feel and understand what Christ meant by touching him. It seems such a personal way to say, "I see you and know you and I want you to understand what I am doing for you."
The Bread of Life and Hard Sayings John 6:22-71
- There is so much depth to this Sermon and teaching! I will only touch on a few things.
- Christ seems to be at the height of his popularity. John the Baptist is dead, He is thronged by multitudes who want him to be King, He has fed thousands -- twice! -- miraculously and demonstrated through these miracles that He is the prophesied new Moses who is to come.
- And then comes this sermon, which to my ears doesn't sound particularly difficult. Christ tells the people that they are following him, not because they want to do His will and follow Him, but "because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." (John 6:26). The people prove this to be the case when after Christ speaks to them of the manna that the Father gave to Moses, they cry out, "Lord, evermore give us this bread!"
- When Christ went on to explain more about the Bread of Life and how to eat it, they are angry, both because He declares He came down from heaven, and also because they don't understand or want to do what He is asking. "This is an hard saying, who can hear it?" (John 6:60)
- It seems to me that the people didn't want Christ. They wanted the same thing many of us want. They wanted an easy life. They wanted to do away with the daily toil and struggle they go through just to have enough to eat. If they could have bread from heaven every day, then all their troubles would be solved.
- Instead, Christ calls them to be His disciples, which is going to require a lot more of them. Many did not want to accept this. John 6:66: "From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."
- Here is the Son of God, declaring Who He is to them, and inviting them to partake of the Life He brings, and they reject it. What a tragedy!
- And yet, don't we also seek an easier life today? I think of many who plan their family size or space their children out not through prayerful decisions but based on what they think will make life easiest. Not all do this, of course, but it seems to be a much larger consideration than it should be. What would God have me do? should be the main question. And what about accepting the calling and challenges of motherhood? More and more in our society put it off or simply choose not to have children at all. They miss out on all the joys that come from the hard.
- We want to form God in our own image at times, wanting him to follow whatever current trends are popular. We don't want "hard sayings" about being chaste, for example, or about living a consecrated life or overcoming our selfishness.
- Leaving aside societal trends, I believe that sooner or later, all of us will have a moment on the path of discipleship where we encounter what we consider "a hard saying." What we do at those times is instructive. Will we, like the man who brought his son to Christ, say, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief”? (Mark 9:22-24). As Elder Holland puts it, "In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. . . When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes."
- Are we willing to engage in the wrestle towards understanding?
- Simon Peter is a perfect model of how to handle what we don't know by holding on to what we do. I love verses 67-69: Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God."
- Peter didn't need to understand everything. He knew enough to know that there was no other path. Christ is the Son and the Way. Come what may, he was committed.
- Following Christ even through my hardest hours and when going through things I couldn't understand has brought me every good thing in my life. With Christ, my life is rich and full and my understanding grows. I may not know everything, but I know enough.