“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?”, Notes on Matthew 18; Luke 10, CFM study for April 22–28
Become as a Child, Matthew 18:1-6
- See my notes under the heading "Who is the Greatest," where I cover this passage.
The Parable of the Lost Sheep, Matthew 18:10-14, see also Luke 15:1-7
- Christ says that any of His hearers who had a hundred sheep and lost one would go after it. I've been thinking about that. There are a lot of things that I could have one hundred of and not care if I lost one. In a lot of things, 99% is more than good enough. If I had one hundred dollars and couldn't find one of them, I wouldn't worry about it. But a good shepherd loves his sheep and knows them. It's not just another dollar bill to the shepherd; it's a valued and known member of his flock.
- Why do sheep get lost? John and Jeannie Welch say this about sheep: "Of all the animals in God’s kingdom, sheep rank among the most vulnerable. They are largely defenseless, lacking claws or most other means of warding off an attack from predators. They cannot even run quickly for very long. And not only can a lamb become lost, but because it lacks any homing instinct, it is quite helpless in finding is way back to the flock or the pasture. And once lost, it will frequently simply sit down and wait, not even bleating in distress. The best protection for sheep is to stay together in a group. Even then, the slightest noise can send them into a panic or cause a whole herd to stampede, sometimes to their death. The presence of their shepherd exerts an immediate calming effect on the sheep."
- I found that information fascinating, so I looked up more information about sheep. I learned from sheep101.info that "Sheep are best known for their strong flocking (herding) and following instinct. They will run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for protection. This is the only protection they have from predators. There is safety in numbers. It is harder for a predator to pick a sheep out of a group than to go after a few strays. Flocking instinct varies by breed, with the fine wool breeds being the most gregarious. It is this strong flocking instinct that allows one person to look after so many sheep . . .When one sheep moves, the rest will follow, even if it does not seem to be a good idea. The flocking and following instinct of sheep is so strong that it caused the death of 400 sheep in 2006 in eastern Turkey. The sheep plunged to their death after one of the sheep tried to cross a 15-meter deep ravine, and the rest of the flock followed. Even from birth, lambs learn to follow the older members of the flock."
Resolving Conflicts and Extending Forgiveness, Matthew 18:15-22
- It's interesting that Christ says the person who has been offended is the one who should approach the offender, instead of the other way around.
- James E. Talmage says "The rule of the rabbis was that the offender must make the first advance; but Jesus taught that the injured one should not wait for his brother to come to him, but go himself, and seek to adjust the difficulty; by so doing he might be the means of saving his brother’s soul. If the offender proved to be obdurate, the brother who had suffered the trespass was to take two or three others with him, and again try to bring the transgressor to repentant acknowledgment of his offense; such a course provided for witnesses, by whose presence later misrepresentation would be guarded against.
Extreme measures were to be adopted only after all gentler means had failed. Should the man persist in his obstinacy, the case was to be brought before the Church, and in the event of his neglect or refusal to heed the decision of the Church, he was to be deprived of fellowship, thereby becoming in his relationship to his former associates “as an heathen man and a publican.” In such state of nonmembership he would be a fit subject for missionary effort; but, until he became repentant and manifested willingness to make amends, he could claim no rights or privileges of communion in the Church."
- Verse 19 and 20 are interesting when put in context. Usually, we talk about two or three gathered in Christ's name as a promise to those gathered to be together in worship. And that is so very true. I've been in Primary classes with just a few little children and have felt the Spirit so powerfully. But it's clear here that the promise is given specifically to those who are gathered together with the authority to deal with an unrepentant brother or sister in the Church. Those who are "loosed" from the Church on earth by those with the keys will also be "loosed" in heaven. I'm sure such a responsibility was heavy on those in the early Church as it is heavy today. The promise that God would be in their midst as they made these hard decisions is comforting.
- It reminds me of this chapter in Mosiah where Alma was so troubled by the wickedness of some Church members and prayed to know what to do, "for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God." And his prayers were answered in abundance.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Matthew 18:23-35
- One man owes an enormous debt and is forgiven the debt, then he turns around and refuses to forgive a smaller debt owed to him. The numbers here are deliberately exaggerated. The first man owed the equivalent of a billion dollars. How many even have that much to lend? The deliberate use of such an exaggerated number points us to our overwhelming debt to God, who is all-powerful and has lent to us more than we ever can comprehend.
- Of course, Elder Holland says it better than I could:
There is some difference of opinion among scholars regarding the monetary values mentioned here—and forgive the U.S. monetary reference—but to make the math easy, if the smaller, unforgiven 100-pence debt were, say, $100 in current times, then the 10,000-talent debt so freely forgiven would have approached $1 billion—or more!
As a personal debt, that is an astronomical number—totally beyond our comprehension. (Nobody can shop that much!) Well, for the purposes of this parable, it is supposed to be incomprehensible; it is supposed to be beyond our ability to grasp, to say nothing of beyond our ability to repay. That is because this isn’t a story about two servants arguing in the New Testament. It is a story about us, the fallen human family—mortal debtors, transgressors, and prisoners all. Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is “moved with compassion toward us."
Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.
- The parable also teaches what Christ says in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, that the judgment we give to others will be returned to us again. The man who had been forgiven his enormous debt is called to account for his own lack of forgiveness and then is "delivered to the tormentors." I don't know what that means exactly -- were the tormentors the slave traders he was sold to? Or like overlords in a debtor's prison? If anyone has an idea of what that means, I'd love to hear it. In any case, we are told that the same will happen to us if we are unforgiving.
Sending Out the Seventy, Luke 10:1-12
- I love that Christ sends the seventy out two by two "before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come." I had always pictured them just going out to the world at large, but they instead went ahead to prepare the people's hearts to accept Jesus when He would arrive. That's the same thing that our missionaries do today. They go out proclaiming Christ and His restored Church and then Christ comes to those people who are open to accepting and learning of Him.
- "The labourers are few." There is such a need for those who are willing to come and serve! When we were living in a student ward, we had a stake president, Wes Burr, leave on a mission with his wife. He told us all that he had noticed something consistently. Those that planned to go on missions as seniors went and those who waited to decide until later usually didn't go. So he encouraged us all to plan to serve missions later in our lives (in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, married couples can serve full-time missions when they have no dependents living at home). This counsel is one reason I've been studying Portuguese daily for the past two and a half years. I decided that I would be of more use to God if I knew another language. I currently have an 810-day streak on Duolingo that I'm pretty proud of. I have a lot more to learn, but I'm happy with the small progress I've made in just a few minutes a day.
- The seventy are to accept and depend upon the hospitality of generous hosts. They should eat what they are served and heal the sick.
The Return of the Seventy, Luke 10:17-24
- Luke doesn't leave us in much suspense. He goes right from sending them out to telling of their return. If only it happened that fast in real life! My daughter is halfway finished with her 18-month mission in Brazil, and while the time has flown, we miss her immensely.
- Luke tells us the seventy returned "with joy" and then a few verses later, "Jesus rejoiced in spirit." It seems that the joy of the seventy brought Christ joy. I certainly have felt great joy at the miracles and growth that I see in my daughter as she serves, and I know that God also rejoices with her as she watches people change when they accept the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- The seventy are amazed and exult over the fact that "even the devils are subject unto us through thy name." Christ's response is interesting. He tells them that He saw Satan fall as lightning from heaven and confirmed that He has given them power "over all the power of the enemy." But he also tells them that they shouldn't rejoice over having power over the fallen devils that followed Satan. I get the sense that He encourages them to feel pity instead for the miserable creatures. Instead, he tells them to rejoice that their own names are written in heaven.
- I love that Luke records a prayer of gratitude that Jesus gives, thanking the Father for revealing these things "unto babes." We aren't required to be the most experienced, educated, or talented to be of service in the kingdom. We simply need to be willing and to begin, and miracles will follow.
The Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37
- One thing I've thought about the story in the past is that it shows that what Christ wants is for us to do what we can. The Samaritan did so much but he didn't stay with the man; he had to be on his way so he left the innkeeper to care for him. He didn't stay until the man was all better, but he did more than anyone would have expected a stranger to do. But as I've thought about it more, there are clear indicators that there is much more to this story than that.
- The Institute manual says, "In the written law of Moses, priests and Levites were assigned to serve God and their fellowmen, both in the temple and as teachers and exemplars of God’s law. These priesthood bearers were fully aware of the commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). In fact, Levites were specifically charged with helping travelers economically and in other ways (see Leviticus 25:35–36). In the Savior’s parable, however, the priest and the Levite violated these commandments—both noticed the wounded man yet “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31–32). The priest and Levite were following the oral law or tradition of the rabbis, which stated that Jews were not bound to deliver non-Jews or those of unknown ethnicity from death, for such a person was not a neighbor. The priest and Levite were within the bounds of oral law or tradition, but they were not within the pure law of Moses. Ironically, the Samaritan filled the roles of the priest and the Levite as outlined in the written Mosaic law, whereas the oral law or tradition excused the behavior of the priest and the Levite."
- I loved the insights of Jack Welch about how the parable was understood by the early Christians as an allegory of the Fall and Redemption. My study Bible has an impressive chart showing the different symbols in Welch's reading of it. Welch had noticed that in many churches, the parable of the good Samaritan was portrayed right next to the Fall of Adam and Eve and their redemption. The article is well worth the read! My New Testament Study Bible had a great chart summarizing Welch's parallels:
- Reading this as the medieval church did, as an allegory of the fall and redemption of mankind, brings some powerful insights.
- If Christ is represented by the Samaritan, there is great power in his promise to the innkeeper (the inn is believed to represent the Church) in giving him money and promising that he would come again and make up any difference between what it cost to care for the man and the money he left. This foreshadows the time when Christ will come again and wipe all tears from our eyes. He will make up the difference because He is the difference. It also shows us that Christ needs us to do our part in His great redemptive work. He leaves the man to be cared for by others.
- "Go, and Do Thou Likewise." The Savior's abundant care is manifest in the actions of the Good Samaritan, and we are to do the same. President Spencer W. Kimball said, "The Lord does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other. The righteous life is achieved as we magnify our view of life, and expand our view of others and of our own possibilities. Thus, the more we follow the teachings of the Master, the more enlarged our perspective becomes. We see many more possibilities for service than we would have seen without this magnification. There is great security in spirituality, and we cannot have spirituality without service!
The abundant life noted in the scriptures is the spiritual sum that is arrived at by the multiplying of our service to others and by investing our talents in service to God and to man. Jesus said, you will recall, that on the first two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, and those two commandments involve developing our love of God, of self, of our neighbors, and of all men. There can be no real abundance in life that is not connected with the keeping and the carrying out of those two great commandments."
Mary and Martha, Luke 10:38-42
- I have always loved this story and its traditional explanation -- that Martha was so busy worried about the details of everything that she didn't take time for the "one needful thing" that her sister Mary was doing by sitting at Jesus' feet. It has been common for many to write about this story in a way that tries to "rehabilitate" Martha in a sense, from our one-dimensional view of her as someone too busy to listen to the Savior, and I appreciate those perspectives and even agree with most of them. I don't think it's fair to turn Mary into the good sister and Martha in to the bad. But I also think that Martha was a strong enough disciple to handle a rebuke from the Savior. If Peter and the Apostles can handle being taken to task for their "little faith" and their misunderstandings of the Savior's teachings, I'm sure Martha, too, can accept and learn from what Christ is saying to her. And it is clear from her other stories in the New Testament that she did exactly that.
- Luke is the only one who tells this story. He is known for including many, many stories of women in his record, from Elizabeth and Mary to these special women who served Jesus. He says at the beginning of his record that he talked to many eyewitnesses to compile it. I think the most likely explanation for the origin of this story is that Martha herself told it to him, as well as what she learned from this experience. If that is true, I love her for her willingness to share her moments of weakness.
- I, too, can and do learn often from seeing through my study of the scriptures and through the whisperings of the Spirit, ways I can improve and change my life. I think it's common now to want to always tell each other, "You are enough," and "You are amazing just as you are and if anyone tells you differently, don't listen," and while there might be times for that message, I think we all crave improvement and the greater happiness that results from working to develop a better character.
- I remember a time when I was dealing with depression and was overwhelmingly discouraged. In the midst of that trial, I was given a blessing of comfort that also included a gentle rebuke. I was told that I could do more than I was doing to help overcome the challenges I was experiencing. It wasn't what I'd wanted to hear, but it was just what I needed. With that encouragement, I looked more closely at my life and habits and what I could change. With God's help, medical attention, and my own improved efforts, I saw great improvement in the course of time.
- What Martha was doing was so important. At the beginning of this chapter, the seventy were sent out and told to depend on the hospitality of those who would take them in. Martha was one that was offering that hospitality to Jesus and his disciples, and I am sure she was stretched and stressed about her overwhelming workload.
- It is interesting to note that Christ didn't rebuke Martha until she started to criticize Mary. It seems like her anger and resentment were what deserved attention from the Lord, not the fact that she was busy serving.
- I love that in his response to Martha, Christ tells her He sees her concerns and worries. She really was "cumbered about with much serving." I picture these words spoken with great love and understanding, "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things," just before the reminder of what was most important, "But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." He knew and understood what Martha was experiencing and why it was she was so frustrated with her sister.
- This beautiful talk by Bonnie D. Parkin is so worth a read. In it, she says,
The Savior’s response strikingly clarified what mattered most. On that evening in Martha’s home, the good part was not in the kitchen; it was at the Lord’s feet. Dinner could wait.
Like Mary, I hunger to feast at the Savior’s feet, while, like Martha, I need to somehow find the laundry room floor, empty my in-box, and serve my husband something other than cold pizza. I have 15 grandchildren whose tender little spirits and daily challenges I want to better understand, yet I also have a slightly demanding Church calling! I don’t have lots of time. Like all of you, I have to choose. We all are trying to choose the good part which cannot be taken from us, to balance the spiritual and the temporal in our lives. Wouldn’t it be easy if we were choosing between visiting teaching or robbing a bank? Instead, our choices are often more subtle. We must choose between many worthy options.
Mary and Martha are you and me; they are every sister in Relief Society. These two loved the Lord and wanted to show that love. On this occasion, it seems to me that Mary expressed her love by hearing His word, while Martha expressed hers by serving Him.
Martha thought she was doing right and that her sister should be helping her.
I don’t believe the Lord was saying there are Marthas and there are Marys. Jesus did not dismiss Martha’s concern, but instead redirected her focus by saying choose “that good part.” And what is that? The prophet Lehi taught that we “should look to the great Mediator, and hearken unto his great commandments; and be faithful unto his words, and choose eternal life, according to the will of his Holy Spirit.”9
The one thing that is needful is to choose eternal life. We choose daily. As we seek, listen, and follow the Lord, we are encircled in the arms of His love—a love that is pure.
- One of the things I have learned as a mother is how important it is to unencumber yourself by examining all that you are doing and to put aside things of lesser importance. It can be painful, and I've had to give up some wonderful opportunities, put aside some personal pursuits, and to say "no" to very good things in order to focus on what matters most. Someone asked me last week how I do it with eleven kids. I said, "Well, I do it the same as many other moms. I think we all fill up our time with good things. If I didn't have eleven kids, I'd probably be doing other things, like being PTO president or volunteering somewhere. The difference in my life is that if that other woman gets stressed or overwhelmed, she can always choose not to be PTO president or to quit her volunteer work. In my case, when I get stressed, there's not as much that I can put aside. I can't exactly give away one of my kids!" With that being the case, I've had to be more careful than many others about how I spend my time. Everything has an opportunity cost. If I'm at one child's orthodontist appointment after school, that means I'm not at home teaching another child how to cook. If I'm organizing my books alphabetically by size and color, then I'm not keeping up on my laundry and it's only a matter of time before my toddler finds my mascara and paints the bathroom with it. Life is a constant juggling of priorities. That's one reason why my daily prayers always include a plea to be in tune with the needs of my children and to know where I should put my efforts.
Videos From the Week:
Book of Mormon Central does a terrific job of collecting relevant and interesting videos about each week's lesson. I've created a playlist of some of them to watch this week with my family.