Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Testament Lesson #17 "What Shall I Do That I May Inherit Eternal Life?"

Mark 10:17-30; 12:41-44; Luke 12:13-21; 14; 16

REAL RICHES

A young man ran up to Jesus and asked him what he could do to inherit eternal life.  Clearly he expected to hear, "You're already doing it all; don't worry."  But, just like many of us who get answers to prayers that we don't like, he found out that there was more required (Mark 10:17-20).

"Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.  And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.  And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!  And the disciples were asonished at his words.  But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:21-24)

So, those of us who are not wealthy are off the hook, right?  C.S. Lewis begs to differ:

"Christ said it was difficult for 'the rich' to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, refering, no doubt, to 'riches' in the ordinary sense.  But I think it really covers riches in every sense--good fortune, health, popularity, and all the things one wants to have.  All these things tend--just as money tends--to make you feel independent of God, because if you have them you are happy already and contented in this life.  You don't want to turn away to anything more, and so you try to rest in a shadowy happiness as if it could last for ever.  But God wants to give you a real and eternal happiness.  Consequently He may have to take all these 'riches' away from you: if he doesn't, you will go on relying on them.  It sounds cruel, doesn't it?  But I am beginning to find out that what people call the cruel doctrines are really the kindest ones in the long run...If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it's not so bad"  (C.S. Lewis, The C.S. Lewis Bible, p. 1123).

Notice Christ's reaction to the rich young man:  "Beholding him, [He] loved him."  It was out of this love that He requested the young man to give up his goods.  Why?  Because he wanted to open up a space in the young man's life in which He could give him more.

The Lord said that what we are required to give up will be rewarded "a hundredfold now in this time...and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30).  The reward will be much greater than the sacrifice.  "And if ye seek the riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity..." (D&C 38:39) 

You might have heard the little parable of the child whose father asks her to give him her most beloved toy necklace to prove her love for him.  He asks repeatedly while she debates, but when she finally gives up the beads, the father gives her a real pearl necklace as his return gift.  This is a little bit like what we can expect from our Father in Heaven when he asks us to give up that one thing, be it riches or whatever else, that we cling to and hold dear.  As Elder Melvin J. Ballard said, "A person cannot give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return" (Ensign, November 1980).  We can be sure that the widow, who cast in her mites (Mark 12:41-44), received such a reward, eventually, because the Lord was there to observe her sacrifice, and He is there to observe ours. 

Besides, as Jesus pointed out in the parable in Luke 12:13-21, what earthly goods we give up for the kingdom, might just as well disappear tomorrow on their own.

THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT SUPPER

So a man made a great feast and invited many people to it.  But each of them made an excuse, and didn't come.

Why would anyone refuse an invitation to such a wonderful event?

Because they are like many people today, who are "so busy being self-sufficient or fulfilling their life programs that they spurn salvation" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, p. 128).  Also, it's not quite as easy as walking into a banquet hall for a couple of hours.

"We often must make significant changes in our lives in order to attend the feast at the table of the Lord. Too many of us put those changes off, thinking there is no urgency.  Perhaps this parable could be called the “don’t bother me now, Lord” parable. We try to excuse ourselves in various ways. Each rationalization comes from selfishness and almost always relates to something temporal. For some it is the Word of Wisdom. For others it is the law of tithing. Perhaps it is a reluctance to live the law of chastity. Whatever the reason, we who reject or delay our response to the Savior’s invitation show our lack of love for Him who is our King" ("Parables of Jesus: The Great Supper," F. Melvin Hammond, Ensign, April 2003).

"The Lord explained to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the elders of the Church were sent to earth so that “a feast of fat things might be prepared … ; Yea, a supper of the house of the Lord, well prepared, unto which all nations shall be invited. First, the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble” (D&C 58:8–10). If the Lord is providing his own commentary [here] on the parable of the great supper—and it seems that he is—then it is frightening to note that those who declined the invitation were those more concerned with temporal problems—for example, a piece of ground, a yoke of oxen, or a wife who did not understand the significance of the supper. As we look at the part riches play in this parable, we can see that there is great risk in them—risk that concern for material things may cloud our view of what is eternally important" (F. Burton Howard, "Overcoming the World," Ensign, Sept. 1996).

WHAT ABOUT THE SERVANTS?

From his perspective as a Seventy and a mission president, Elder Hammond wrote a companion parable.  "The role of the man’s servants in the parable of the great supper is an aspect of the story we seldom think about. Contemplating this, I wrote the following parable: A certain man possessing many riches and desiring to share them with all his friends planned a feast with food and drink. His servants were given instructions, and preparations were made. In the evening the guests arrived hungry, looking forward to being fed. The hall was spacious and the tables beautifully set. But the cups were empty and only crumbs were spread upon the plates. The guests left hungering and thirsting, their loyalty shaken, not anxious to return. And the king wept because his servants, they who had professed total allegiance and obedience to him, did not perform their duties as expected.

"We who have the responsibility to serve, train, and teach in the home or at church sometimes come to our tasks unprepared. Our children or students want to be spiritually fed but frequently go away still hungering and thirsting for the things of the Spirit of God. Every parent and teacher in the Church—whether in Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, a priesthood quorum, or even on the music committee—who is not prepared to feed his or her 'guests' runs the risk of leaving the Lord’s children hungry. However, when adequate preparation is made and the Spirit is invited, everyone may leave the meeting edified and rejoicing in the Lord."  (Hammond)

Note on Luke 14:26, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother:" "Hate [here is] prophetic hyperbole [or exaggeration to make a point] for the uncompromising loyalty required toward Jesus and the true family of disciples" (Harper-Collins Study Bible).  "The theme of these verses is not alienation from one's family but the cost of discipleship: nothing, not love for father or mother or even one's own life, is to take precedence over loyalty to God and his Messiah" (Stern, p. 129).

THE CURIOUS PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD

Lest we take all the messages Jesus taught about not overvaluing money and worldly possessions to an extreme, we find a balancing parable following them in Luke 16.


"The parable of the unjust steward is about a business manager who manipulates his employer’s debts. I have wondered many times why the Savior ever gave it. Some people have even read it and wondered if He was justifying or excusing unethical behavior. It is a curious parable, but one that is also rich with truth, including teachings that show us how to make our way financially in this world" (Tsung-Ting Yang, "Parables of Jesus: The Unjust Steward," Ensign, July 2003). 

Elder Yang points out that this parable follows closely on the heels of the parable of the prodigal (or wasteful) son, and as we know, placement in the Bible is meant to enhance teachings.  In this parable of the unjust steward, the Savior pointed out that worldly people sometimes manage their finances better than do the spiritually-minded.  But it is necessary that we learn to be wise with the worldly blessings the Lord has given us.

"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.  If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?"  (Luke 16:10-11).

"How sound and penetrating this logic!  Does it not border on the preposterous for us to think that we might be entrusted with the endless resources of eternity and the full powers of the priesthood when we cannot even live within a budget?" (Dennis Deaton, Money-Wise and Spiritually Rich, p. 14).

So what are the specific lessons taught in money management by the parable of the unjust steward?

Elder Yang explains:  "In Jesus’ day owners sometimes overcharged debtors, so the discounts the steward gave could have simply returned the debts to their original amounts. This approach would have satisfied the rich man and gained the favor of the debtors. But whatever the steward did, the Savior described his actions as “unjust,” or morally wrong, for the Lord does not excuse sin for any reason. It is essential we realize that in the parable it was the rich man—not the Savior—who commended the steward.

"After telling the parable, Jesus explained some points that were important to Him.
  1. Those who are spiritually strong need to give proper attention to the temporal affairs in their lives. “For the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8).
  2. When possible the righteous should be friends, not enemies, with people in positions of authority or wealth, for someday those friends may assist the righteous and the kingdom of God. “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations” (Luke 16:9; see D&C 82:22).  A great example of this principle was carried out by Apostle Thomas S. Monson in the 1970s.  By repeatedly petitioning the Communist government of East Germany to allow the Latter-day Saints living there to attend General Conference or the temple, and then keeping his promise that each one would return to East Germany and not defect (even including the body of an elderly woman who died on her temple trip), President Monson gained the confidence of the government, which led not only to their suggestion that he build a temple in their country (the Freiberg Temple), but which favorably influenced the Church's dealings with many surrounding countries.  (See Heidi S. Swinton, To The Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson, p. 299-301.)
  3. Those who wisely manage their temporal affairs are more likely to also wisely manage their spiritual affairs. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much. … And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10,12; see D&C 51:19). 
  4. Obedience to God is much more important than making money. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13; see D&C 56:16–17)." (Yang)
LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) circles us back to the beginning of this scripture chain, and the first principle taught:  that riches themselves are irrelevant to gaining eternal life, but if we have them, the way we use them does have an effect on our salvation. 

In this story Lazarus was a hideous begger lying in the street.  As we have seen from the story of Job and the healing of the blind man in the previous lesson, the Jews were accustomed to assuming that sin was always the cause of misfortune.  Therefore, Lazarus would have been the least in the kingdom of Heaven.  The only comfort he received on earth was being licked by the mangy street dogs.  Ugh!

The rich man saw Lazarus daily lying outside his gates, but like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan, he did nothing to help him, despite clearly having the means.

So in the next life, their roles were reversed.  The rich man suffered the pains of hell, while Lazarus "was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (v.22).  This is "a rare phrase in early Jewish writing, but not unknown...[It] suggests both being in [Paradise] and being present at the Messianic banquet" (Stern, p. 134). 

Hey!  Lazarus was one who went in to the feast prepared by the Lord after the invitation was rejected by the rich man!

It's interesting that the rich man is not given a name in this story, but the beggar is.  The rich man could be any or all of us, but the beggar's identity is specific:

1) The name Lazarus means "Helped of God" (Bible Dictionary).  It is the same as that of the brother of Mary and Martha who is later raised from the dead (John 11-12).  As the second Lazarus was raised from mortal death by Christ, the first Lazarus was raised from spiritual death by Christ.

2) We can't readily tell by their circumstances who has petitioned the Lord and received the saving and perfecting power of the Atonement in their lives.  The least among us may be at the head of the table in the next life.

8 comments:

Lex-a-roo said...

Wow, I'm so grateful for your blog to help get me through my lessons I hope you keep posting them.

Anonymous said...

Very, very nice work here....

James said...

You are wonderful!!! We are so grateful for this blog. It truly makes our lessons more uplifting!!

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your insights, and the quotes from Yang and Deaton were terrific. Thanks!

JoeP said...

I also appreciated particularly the article by Elder Yang. Great insight into a somewhat strange parable.

janel said...

Thanks for working through the parable of the unjust steward so carefully. That's always been confusing to me. And thanks for so many great ideas, as always! I'm grateful our gospel doctrine class is a few weeks behind so I can study up on your great resources! Bless you.

Jenna said...

Hi I came across your blog on a search of the rich man and lazarus - who is the reference "Stern" you use in defining the phrase "was carried by the angels into Abrahams bosom"?

Thanks!
Jen~

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Jen,
It is noted earlier in the article, but it is easy to miss: David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. The interesting thing about his viewpoint is that he is a Messianic Jew, or in other words, a Jew who believes in Christ. Thanks for asking!