“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. 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.” 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.” 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.
- 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:
- 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.