Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Testament Lesson #22 "Inherit the Kingdom Prepared For You"

Matthew 25

SHARING OUR OIL

After going to all the trouble of collecting, financing, organizing, analyzing, and shelving your food storage, would you be willing to share it with others?  In 1871, in the "extremely harsh" settlement of Spring Valley, Nevada, Mormon pioneer Joseph Millet wrote in his journal:

"One of my children came in, said that Brother Newton Hall’s folks were out of bread. Had none that day. I put…our flour in [a] sack to send up to Brother Hall’s. Just then Brother Hall came in.

"Says I, 'Brother Hall, how are you out for flour[?]'

“'Brother Millett, we have none.'

“'Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you were out.'

"Brother Hall began to cry. Said he had tried others. Could not get any. Went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett.

“'Well, Brother Hall, you needn’t bring this back if the Lord sent you for it. You don’t owe me for it.' You can’t tell how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew that there was such a person as Joseph Millett.(Eugene England, "Without Purse or Scrip,", New Era, July 1975; also Boyd K. Packer, Ensign, May 1980; also Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, December 2000; also Thomas S. Monson, Liahona, December 2006)

There are many who would be like Joseph Millet, and would share their supply of food or fuel with another in need.  But in the first parable of Jesus that we are going study today, the righteous who were prepared did not share their fuel with their fellow "saints" who were unprepared.  It's quite contrary to the teachings of Jesus to be stingy about anything we have that another doesn't, but in this case, it was impossible to share.

THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS (Matt. 25:1-13)

First off, we have to get one thing straight:  This is not the parable of the five virgins and the five harlots.  All ten were virgins or "members of the Church in good standing."  The number of the virgins also verifies that they were believers.  Every Hebrew number has a meaning very significant to the Jews, so anytime we see a number in the Bible, we must be highly suspicious that the number is going to enhance the lesson being taught.  In this case, it is the number ten, and ten symbolizes "testimony; law and responsibility" (Bible Numerics.com).  These women had testimonies of Christ, understood the law, and were responsible for keeping it.

They had all not only been invited to the wedding feast, but were expected to play a significant role in it.  They were to carry their lamps to light the way of the bridal procession.  The lamps were probably attached to a pole and carried aloft (McConkie, p. 466).

All of the virgins had oil in their lamps as the story began.  Although some had extra, all of them thought that what they had was enough.  But it took longer for the bridegroom to come than expected, and when he came, five of the lamps had run out of oil.  The five with extra oil refilled their own lamps, and the five in need desperately asked them to share.  But this was not possible.

"The shape of Jewish lamps, outside lips rounded inward, made it almost impossible for someone to pour oil from one lamp to another."  (Primary 7 Manual"Lesson 25"The oil is poured from the storage recepticle into the central opening.  The wick is inserted in the little hole on the side to absorb the oil.  (You can see the burn marks near the wick hole in the lamp below.)



What is the oil?  The Doctrine and Covenants gives a clue to the answer:

"And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.  For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived--verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day."  (D&C 45:56-57)

The oil is not only the testimony of the Holy Ghost, but the learned ability to use it as a guide.  We often tell our youth, "If you don't have a testimony, lean on mine," but at some point, every person must have their own testimony, independent of others, and be able to follow the Light of the Spirit or they will find themselves among the five foolish virgins, left out in the dark.

"All that one person can do for the salvation of another is to preach, teach, expound, and exhort; all that one man can do for his fellows is to teach them the truth and guide their feet into paths of virtue and rectitude.  All that the five wise virgins can do for the foolish is to tell them how to gain oil for themselves" (McConkie, p. 468).

The Parable of the Ten Virgins is about our personal testimonies.

THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (Matt. 25:14-30)



The very next parable is the parable of the talents.  Did you know there is a parallel parable to this one in the book of Luke?  We can learn a lot by comparing these two parables. 

Have one member of the class read the parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12-27) while the class follows the parable of the talents and notes the differences between the two:


Parable of the Pounds (Luke)
Parable of the Talents (Matthew)
“A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom.”
“The Kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country.”
Ten servants
Three servants
Each servant was given ten pounds
One servant was given five talents, one was given two, and one was given one
Pounds were substantial sums of money
Talents were astronomical sums of money!
Servants were expected to earn more money with what they were given (see footnote to Luke 19:13)
Citizens hated the nobleman and refused his leadership.
No mention of citizens
One servant increased the sum by 10 times, one by 5 times, one simply retained the original amount.
Two servants doubled their sums, one simply retained the original amount.
Servants who increased in any way were given great praise and reward.  The servant who did not increase was chastised.
No mention is made of the unprofitable servant’s fate, but the rebellious citizens were ordered killed.
The unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness

So what accounts for the differences, and what do they teach us?

First, it is important to note that the parable of the pounds was given to a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers or potential converts (Talmadge, p. 581).  The parable of the talents was given in Christ's last few days only to the Apostles, as a continuation of the Olivet Discourse (see Matt. 23:3).

Second, it is helpful to look at the writer and his audience.  Luke was a Gentile converted by the missionary Paul, writing his gospel to Gentiles.  Matthew was a Jew writing to Jews.  (For more on this, see "Overview of the Four Gospels" in a previous post.)


Keeping this in mind, let's look at some of the individual symbols:
  • The number of servants:  Ten refers to testimony, as we read above.  Three refers to divine completeness.  Could this tell us that, although all the servants were "members," the three servants were further along the pathway toward becoming like Christ?  Perhaps the ten were new converts just beginning their spiritual journeys, and the three were of "pioneer stock," with much foundational teaching and examples available to them throughout their lives.
  • The amounts of money given:  A pound was worth three months of a laborer's wage.  A talent was the largest measurement of money possible, worth more than 15 years of a laborer's wages(Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1891).  
  • The returns reaped by the servants:  It did not matter how much the servants returned.  As long as they increased, they received great praise.  But even if they did not lose what they were originally given, if they did not increase it, they faced wrath.  And it is specifically mentioned that the servant who was given the vast amount of a single talent, was cast into outer darkness for not improving upon it.  "For unto him of whom much is given, much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation" (D&C 82:3), whereas the rebellious "citizens" surrounding the servant who did not increase his ten pounds were destroyed.
An interesting side note:  Our current English usage of the word talent as a special gift or ability comes directly from this parable (Webster's Intermediate Dictionary).


So how do we invest our talents for an increase?  We have to 1) work beyond the minimum requirements, and we have to 2) take risks. 


Our church callings are one type of "talent."  They are not "charity" that we do condescendingly because we are "good" at what we are asked to do; they are apprenticeships, and they involve taking risks.  We are seldom "qualified" for the church callings we are given; that is why we are given them.  The service we give outside of our church callings is another type of "talent."  So are our careers, and even what we now refer to as talents: our God-given gifts and abilities.


The parable of the talents and pounds are statements about our personal stewardships.


THE PARABLE OF THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS (Matt. 25:31-46)

All three of these parables are about the Parousia, or the Second Coming (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1904), and Matthew's is the only gospel that records them.  They were given in a temple-like setting to the strongest of the believers.  The final of the three is a a sequel to the previous two.

Read aloud Matt. 25:31-34.  What's wrong with goats?





"Nearly all flocks in the Middle East have sheep and goats, as was the case in Jesus’ time. Both are used—the hair of the goats is useful for many practical purposes, and cheese and yogurt are made from the milk. But sheep and goats are very different and do not graze very well together. Shepherds usually prefer the sheep, since goats get into all sorts of trouble. They climb steep, hazardous slopes and often browse while standing on tree branches. Sheep are gentle, walk slowly, and usually obey. This is not so with wandering goats" (Homer Ellsworth, "Thoughts on the Good Shepherd," Ensign, Dec. 1985).


The interpretation of this parable immediately follows it.  Those on the right hand of Christ are those who have fed the hungry (paid fast offerings, taken casseroles, worked in soup kitchens), given drink to the hungry (showed the way to Living Water), taken in strangers (welcomed a new member, spoken kindly to a shockingly dressed teen), clothed the naked (helped "cover" or make acceptable those in a vulnerable state, sent clothes to the needy), visited the sick (that one doesn't need a cultural translation), or come to those in prison (literally ministered to convicts, or helped another free himself from the shackles of sin).  These are the works expected of Christ's flock.

What happens if you don't do these things?  You get everlasting fire with the devil.

Hmm.  You don't have to take away the food or drink, or kick the stranger, or beat the guy in prison to reap the agony of hell; you only have to neglect to help them.  Scary!

What happens if you do these things?  You get to hear this from the Savior:  "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. 25:34).

The Lord will not judge us simply according to our obedience to arbitrary rules.  Our testimony and our actions will prepare us to become like God.  Looking out for the stranger is something Christ would do (think of Zaccheaus); doing it ourselves brings Christ's character into ours.  Visiting the sick is something Christ would do (think of hundreds of healings); doing this ourselves brings Christ's character into ours.  Clothing the naked is something Christ would do (think of his covering the vulnerability of every one of us with his Atonement, just as he clothed Adam and Eve's nakedness--Moses 4:27); doing this ourselves brings Christ's character into ours.

This life is a grand apprenticeship.  By our works, and by our testimony, and with the grace of Christ, we will be made fit as members of the Good Shepherd's flock.

SOURCES:


James E. Talmadge, Jesus The Christ
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 3

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Testament Lesson #21 "What is the Sign of Thy Coming?" (The Olivet Discourse)

Matthew 24 (Joseph Smith--Matthew in the Pearl of Great Price)

GROUP DISCUSSION/ATTENTION GETTER

If you like, you could start the class by having a box or display of a number of items that could symbolize parts of the prophecy.  Have each class member choose something, then give them time to search the chapter and find how it relates to the scripture.  Then let each class member share his idea.

Items could include:  a picture of the temple, a stone or brick, a can of olives, a heart, a picture of mountains, a calendar, a miniature house, army toys (soldiers or miniature jeep), newspaper, sunglasses, flag, a star, a picture of Christ, a trumpet, an angel ornament or figurine, figs, a toy Noah's ark, binoculars, the book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, headphones or earbuds, a watch...


AN OVERVIEW OF THE OLIVET DISCOURSE



vs. 1-4:  The apostles ask Christ about the temple destruction and the Second Coming while on the Mount of Olives alone with him.

The Mount of Olives was as a temple to them, since the temple in Jerusalem was crowded with Passover pilgrims, and this was as a solemn assembly.

The Greek word parousia translated here as "the sign of thy coming" is "a technical term used in the New Testament to specifically denote the Second Coming" (Bible Dictionary, p. 742).

In their questioning, "the destruction of the temple...is carefully separated from the sign of Jesus' coming for final judgment at the end of the age" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1902).

vs. 5-6:  Christ warns not to be deceived when false Christs arise, and then states the chronology of what must happen before the Second Coming.


PROPHECY OF THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM, PERSECUTION OF THE CHRISTIANS AND JEWS, AND THE GREAT APOSTACY



vs. 7-10:  Afflictions of the righteous, betrayals, false prophets, and love running cold would follow the death of Christ.

The persecution of the apostles is well known.  Under Nero, "He who was called Christian had committed crime enough in bearing the name to be put to death" (Talmadge, p. 587).  "In that day to join the Church was to prepare to die" (McConkie, p. 427).  Church meetings were held in secret in the first centuries following Christ, often in the catacombs--the underground burial vaults in Rome (Packer, p. 43).

vs. 11-17:  The steadfast will be saved.  When they see Jerusalem surrounded with armies, they should immediately flee (Luke 21:20) because the Abomination of Desolation will be nigh.

Gallus of Rome surrounded Jerusalem, then lifted the seige unexpectedly.  The Christians noted the sign and fled to Pella before the awful sieges of Vespasian and Titus began.  One early historian reported that every single Christian escaped (McConkie, p. 430; Talmadge, p. 588).  (See also George Horton, 'Be Ye Also Ready': The Amazing Christian Escape From the A.D. 70 Destruction of Jerusalem," Ensign, June 1989.)

The Abomination of Desolation referred to the terrible desecration of the temple by the Roman armies, including the slaughter of priests and patrons within its walls, the posting of their own ensign, and its looting and destruction.  The actual date of this destruction is thought to be Friday, August 9, A.D. 70 (Institute Manual, p. 155).  The destruction of Jerusalem was so thorough that it was actually plowed under (Talmadge, p. 588).

vs. 18-19:  The beginning of sorrows for the Jews.

1,100,000 Jews were killed during the siege.  97,000 were carried captive and most of them killed later in mines or arenas (McConkie, p. 434; Talmadge, p. 588).  "Those who with Roman hands crucified their King at Jerusalem would soon themselves be hanging by the thousands upon Roman crosses in that same benighted area" (McConkie, p. 429).  The atrocities committed by the Romans were absolutely horrific: gladiators, crucifixions, and torchings for entertainment, among others.

vs. 20:  Because of those few elect, the Jewish race will not be completely destroyed.  The sorrows will be ended, or "shortened."

vs. 21-22:  During this time, there will be many false Christs.

vs. 23:  The wars and rumors of wars at this time will not be a sign of the end of the world.

vs. 24-25:  Christ will not be in the desert or the secret chambers.

History records false prophets leading many into the desert.  One led 6,000 into the secret chambers of the temple where they met their demise when the temple was burned.  Many churches during the Apostacy also encouraged retreating into deserts or reclusive "chambers" as the way to bring Christ into their lives (Talmadge, p. 588).



THE SIGNS OF THE SECOND COMING IN THE LAST DISPENSATION



vs. 26:  The Second Coming will be very obvious to everyone; it will not be tricky to figure out whether Christ has returned.

Now the word parousia is used again, as clarification of which time period is concerned.

vs. 27:  The word eagles here is more often translated as "vultures" (for example, in the New Revised Standard Version and in the New International Version).  The elect will be gathered from around the world, flocking to the gospel and its "carcasse" or body, as vultures would be drawn from afar to eat carrion; it will be irresistible to them.

The early years of the Restoration saw this fulfilled by the emigration of British and Scandinavian converts to join the body of the Saints in the United States.  The gathering continues as converts join throughout the world.

vs. 28-30  They shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes.  Again there will be love running cold, but the righteous will be protected.

We hear of even more rumors of wars, more famines, more earthquakes than did the early Christians--maybe because they actually are more, or maybe because of the worldwide media we just hear of more.

vs. 31:  Again the gospel will be preached in all the world. 

It was rapidly preached in all the (known) world by the early Apostles.  Now it will be carried to all the world again.  We are approaching this point in history now.

vs. 32:  Again there will be an Abomination of Desolation.  Exactly what this will entail is unknown.

vs. 33-34:  Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun and moon will be darkened, and the stars will fall.  It will happen quickly:  all in one generation.

vs. 35:  This prophecy is guaranteed.

vs. 36-37:  Now Christ will come in his glory, with his angels and trumpets and gather the remainder of the righteous to him from all over the earth.  Those who have studied and followed Christ's word will not have been deceived and will be ready to greet him.  They may "lift up their heads," for their redemption is here (Luke 21:28).

It is prophecied that Christ will come back to the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4-5).

vs. 38-43:  When they see the signs, they will know he is coming; but not one soul will know exactly when.  If their minds are focused on day-to-day cares and not the gospel, they will be overcome, just like Noah's neighbors were.

Once again, the word parousia is used in specific referral to the Second Coming.

vs. 44-45:  The righteous will be picked out individually from among the wicked and saved.

It will do no good to be hanging around worthy people if you yourself are not worthy.

vs. 46-55:  The only way to guarantee your salvation at the end of the world is to be doing the Lord's will at all times.  There will be no warning, no chance for a "death-bed repentance," and we must not give up, no matter what, but continue to endure in righteous works to the end.  This will not take place during the time the New Testament was being written, but much later.


HOW TO MAKE THE END OF THE WORLD A GOOD EXPERIENCE FOR YOU

Enduring in righteousness is the key to coming out well at the end of the world.  Four hazards to enduring to the end are noted in vs. 7-10, and we must beware of them: 
  1. affliction (persecution)
  2. being offended (by the Lord's counsel given through his leaders), leading to feelings of enmity
  3. deception by worldly sources
  4. iniquity of self or others around you, leading to a loss of love (the most important commandment)
To counter these, we must
  1. be courageous and unashamed of Christ and his Church
  2. humble ourselves, and be united as a Zion society
  3. study the gospel and ignore the world
  4. avoid sin and repent quickly when we do mess up, remembering that "charity covereth the multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8).  Being focused on love will prevent iniquity.

SOURCES:

James E. Talmadge, Jesus The Christ
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 3
J.I. Packer, M.C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible
Institute Manual:  The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Testament Lesson #20 "Woe unto You...Hypocrites"

Matthew 21-23; John 12:1-8

BURIAL ANOINTING
"Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.  There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.  (John 12:1-2)

When Matthew, Mark and Luke recorded their gospels, Lazarus was probably still living, and was in threat of being killed to remove the proof of Christ's miracle in his behalf.  This is likely why John, whose gospel was written much later, was the only one to record the miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead.  (Farrar, p. 511, quoted in McConkie, p. 334).

"Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment."  (John 12:3)
According to Harper-Collins, the Roman pound was about 12 ounces or 340 grams.  The perfumed ointment mentioned was imported from the Himalayas.

"To anoint the head of a guest with ordinary oil was to do him honor; to anoint his feet also was to show unusual and signal regard; but the anointing of head and feet with spikenard, and in such abundance, was an act of reverential homage rarely rendered even to kings" (Talmadge, p. 512).

"The sense may be that this anointing of Jesus foreshadows his impending death.  Jewish burial customs included anointing the body with perfumed oil (Harper-Collins, p. 2037).
Judas Iscariot complained about this "wastefulness."  I couldn't get any kind of consensus from all the sources I looked at as to how much money the oil really would cost today, or how it compared with the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas sold Jesus, but it is obvious that it was fairly expensive.  It was evidence that Mary recognized the great worth of Jesus and honored him, and he appreciated it as such.  Judas was the perfect example of a hypocrite, he who sold Jesus for the price of an injured slave (Harper-Collins).

NOTE ON THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY

Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.  This was appropriate for a Hebrew king coming in peace.  A Hebrew king coming for battle would have ridden a horse.  In the Roman culture, a king would only have come riding a horse.  Since Jesus rode on a donkey, he presented himself as the King of the Jews, yet posed no threat to the Romans. 



"He came riding on an ass, in token of peace, acclaimed by the Hosanna shouts of multitudes; not on a caparisoned steed with the panoply of combat and the accompaniment of bugle blasts and fanfare of trumpets.  That the joyous occasion was in no sense suggestive of physical hostility or of seditious disturbance is sufficiently demonstrated by the indulgent unconcern with which it was viewed by the Roman officials, who were usually prompt to send their legionaries swooping down from the fortress of Antonia at the first evidence of an outbreak; and they were particularly vigilant in suppressing all Messianic pretenders, for false Messiahs had arisen already, and much blood had been shed in the forcible dispelling of their delusive claims...The ass has been designated in literature as 'the ancient symbol of Jewish royalty,' and one riding upon an ass as the type of peaceful progress" (Talmadge, p. 516-517).

"And the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest...and the children of the kingdom [cried] in the temple...saying, Hosanna to the Son of David..." (Matt. 21:9, 15).

"'Hosannah' is a Greek form of the Hebrew expression for 'Save us now,' or 'Save, we pray,' which occurs in the original of Psalm 118:25.  It occurs nowhere in the English Bible except in [the verses noted above]" (Talmadge, p. 523).  In the Jewish tradition, it was a cry meant only for Jehovah, the great God of the Old Testament.

THE CURSING OF THE FIG TREE

"Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing theron, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away"  (Matt. 21:18-19).

Why did the God of Creation destroy a helpless little fig tree?


To teach through an unforgettable live-action parable.

The fig tree is deciduous, or in other words, has leaves that fall off in the winter.  In the spring, the fruit appears before the leaves.  Also, there is generally a little fruit left from the previous season that is still edible.  It was not time yet for either fruit or leaves, but this tree had leaves--an advertisement that it was bearing fruit.  Although the other trees had no figs, they had no leaves either.  This fig tree was cursed, not simply for being fruitless, but for being a hypocrite.

"The leafy, fruitless tree was a symbol of Judaism, which loudly proclaimed itself as the only true religion of the age, and condescendingly invited all the world to come and partake of its rich ripe fruit; when in truth it was but an unnatural growth of leaves, with no fruit of the season, not even an edible bulb held over from earlier years, for such as it had of former fruitage was dried to worthlessness and made repulsive in its worm-eaten decay...The fig tree was a favorite [symbol among the rabbis for] the Jewish race" (Talmadge, p. 527).

In addition, the cursing of the fig tree showed that Christ had power to destroy, as well as power to heal and save.  In a few days, as Christ suffered and died, those who saw the cursing of the fig tree would know that Christ could have destroyed the entire Roman legion and the Jewish leaders had he desired.  He went to his death, not helplessly, but willingly, exercising self-control as he suffered without retaliating.

He also used this miracle to demonstrate the power of faith to his disciples (verses 21-22).  Rather than simply show off his great power, he made it available to all who would develop their faith.

QUESTIONS FROM THE DELEGATIONS

As you go over the various trick questions that were asked of Christ, fill in the first four columns of the table below.  Save the last column ("Ask Yourself") for the end of the discussion.  Or you can cut and paste the chart into a Word document, and then stretch the borders of the chart to make it fit the page better, and give it as a handout.  You could leave the last column blank, and have class members fill in the questions to ask themselves.

One by one, delegations from four powerful groups asked Jesus a premeditated question, hoping to convict him by trickery.

The Chief Priests (Matt. 21:23-27)

"By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?"

Who were the chief priests?  The leaders of the church, those who, of all, should be hailing Christ as king, if they hadn't been leading the church for their own aggrandizement instead.  (Imagine Boyd K. Packer not recognizing Christ!)

Three years of miracles and teachings could answer their question and tell them Christ's authority.  It was obvious they were not seeking the real answer.  So Christ returned their answer with a question that absolutely stymied their attempts to trick him.  By asking what John the Baptist's authority was, they were completely flummoxed.  Everyone knew that John the Baptist had the appropriate authority from God.  He was fully "in the system" with the scribes and Pharisees.  His father had been a priest.  He held the priesthood.  To say that John the Baptist had no authority from God would be to say that they also had no authority from God.  Yet, to say that John the Baptist did have authority from God would be to admit that they had not believed one of known authority.  Therefore, they could not answer without convicting themselves one way or the other.

The church leadership was not schooled to ever say, "I don't know."  Obviously, they were completely desperate or they would not have given such a humiliating answer.

Jesus was a genius.

Herodians (Matt. 22:15-22)

"Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not?"

Who were the Herodians?  They were the upper class, the well-to-do, those concerned with upholding the power of the Herod family in order to maintain their own privileged positions.  The Herods got their power from the Romans, so supporting the Herods meant supporting the Romans.  To the lower class and the practicing Jews, however, the paying of tribute to the Romans was the most offensive of the requirements placed upon them.

If Christ said it was lawful to pay taxes, he would be speaking in opposition to Jewish tradition and law.  If he said it was not lawful to pay taxes, he would be speaking in terms of sedition against the Romans.

His answer again showed his genius:  Money has Caesar's image on it--give it to him.  Give to God that which has God's image on it.  What has God's image and superscription?  The body and soul of man.

The Sadducees (Matt. 22:23-33; Luke 20:27-28)

Who were they?  The Sadducees were influenced by Greek philosophy.  They were the liberal Jewish scholars, in comparison to the conservative Pharisees.  They believed only in the here and now, and not in any afterlife, yet they did believe in God.

They tried to produce a complication that would be hard to sort out in the next life, to illustrate their belief that there was no next life, and to present Christ with a situation which would not work there.  This same problem was often debated by the rabbis, who said that the first husband got the wife.  The six younger brothers had only married her in keeping with Jewish tradition to take care of her, and to carry on the family name and line of the oldest brother.  Christ said, "The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage" but in the next life, they are ministering angels (Luke 20:32).  (See D&C 132:15 where it says, "If a man marry a wife in this world...they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world.")

Christ knew the question had nothing to do with marriage, eternal or otherwise, but with whether there was life after death, and he answered, "But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?  God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:31-32).  All through their history, God had been known as the God of these great patriarchs now dead.  They must still be alive somewhere for him to be their God.

The Pharisees (Matt 22:34-40)

Who were the Pharisees?  They were the extremely conservative Jewish leaders, the "Diet Coke Police" of the day.  In order to preserve their religion when they were taken into exile, the Pharisees sprang up, itemizing details of the law that had not previously existed.  They eventually created a situation where there were rules and details for every act of man, and no one need rely upon the Spirit for guidance in what to do.  They had created 613 divisions and subdivisions of the law.  Which of all these could be the most important, they asked Jesus.

The answer had been given to them by Moses, long before the addition of all these rules.  "What doth the Lord require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul"  (Deut. 10:12).  Jesus merely restated the commandment he had already given them as Jehovah of the Old Testament.



GROUP
CONCERN
QUESTION
CHRIST’S ANSWER
ASK YOURSELF
Chief Priests
(Matt. 21:23-27)
Power
Who has the authority—you or us?
You already know; you just don’t like the answer.
Who is in charge of my life—Christ or my own will?
Herodians
(Matt. 22:15-22)
Wealth
How does money relate to religion?
Give Caesar what is his; give God what is God’s.
Whose image is in my heart—God’s or [whoever is on your country’s money]?
Sadducees
(Luke 20:27-39)
Afterlife
How can there be a life after this one?
How could God have power if everything he made ended at death?  He is the God of the living.
Am I living my life with the next life in mind?
Pharisees
(Matt. 22:34-40)
The Law
Which commandment is most important?
Love.
How well do I love God and every person I meet?


CHRIST'S REBUKE--THE WEDDING OF THE KING'S SON

Matt. 22:1-14.  The marriage feast was a favorite theme in both synagogue and school.  Only the children of Abraham were ever the guests.  Jesus took their very familiar parable and used it so that there was no mistaking his intent.  This parable, as well as the Parable of the Two Sons (Matt 21:28-32), and the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen (Matt. 21:33-46), were not cloaked from understanding, but were specifically made to be very clear.

The bidden guests (bidden = had the invitation well in advance, just as the Jews had their invitation well in advanced through the Old Testament) turned away to their own material pursuits and personal affairs, valuing them above reverence or obedience to the king, showing a complete disdain of the son, the heir to the throne, their next king.  The king's job was to protect his subjects, but they didn't care for his protection.

When the "bidden" guests did not come, the king invited the outcasts and underdogs.  Because the king knew these guests were all poor and unprepared for a wedding, the doorman would have given them the proper attire to make them worthy of entrance.  The man without the wedding garment, therefore, had obviously come in through the back.  The Lord's kingdom is available to everyone, but there is only one entrance.  The Lord scrutinizes every countenance--the guests are not just a sea of faces to him.  There is no hiding in the crowd at the supper of the Lord.

CHRIST'S LAMENT

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matt. 23:37-38).

The chicks huddled under the hen's wing are protected from the view of the hawk.  But Jerusalem would not receive that blessing.  She insisted on foolishly endangering herself, and despite the shelter available to her through Christ, there was no doubt that she would shortly meet her demise.

APPLICATION

All of these various factions--the priests, the Herodians, the Saduccees, the Pharisees--were Jews.  We could say they were "members of the Church."  Church membership alone did not save them; in fact, not behaving in accord with their membership cursed them as hypocrites, just like the fig tree.  We must be careful we do not make the same mistakes.  We also have been invited to the wedding, promised shelter under Christ's wing.  Let's not disregard the invitation.

Return to the chart, and discuss what may be found in the fourth column, "Questions to ask yourself."

Rather than being POWER HUNGRY like the chief priests, let's GIVE OUR WILL OVER TO GOD.

Rather than worrying about WEALTH like the Herodians, let's focus on INTERNALIZING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRIST.

Rather than LIVING ONLY FOR TODAY like the Saduccees, let's KEEP AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE.

Rather than JUDGING OTHERS ON THE DETAILS OF WHAT THEY DO OR DON'T DO like the Pharisees, let's just concern ourselves with ALWAYS ACTING IN LOVE.

Rather than having Christ look on us from a distance, lamenting that we will not allow him to help and protect us, let's be nestled safely like a child in his lap, saying, as did the "children of the kingdom," "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."


SOURCES:

F.W. Farrar, The Life of Christ
Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Book 3
The Harper-Collins Study Bible
James E. Talmadge, Jesus The Christ

Saturday, May 7, 2011

New Testament Lesson #19 "Thy Faith Hath Saved Thee"

Luke 18:1-8, 35-43; 19:1-10; John 11

Preparation: 

Enlist the help of one or two Primary children or Deacons to act out the modern-day parable.  If you're in a Young Single Adult ward, you can probably still find a fairly child-like Elder.  Ask them to listen at the door of the classroom and begin their act as soon as the prayer has been said.  Do not let the class know that they are part of a skit.  It will fool the class even more if the actors are your own family members, or if they are known by the ward or branch to be a little impish or obnoxious. 

You will need a plate of cookies or a bowl of treats--enough for the class members and a few extra.

INTRODUCTION:  TWO PARABLES ON PERSISTENCE

Skit (Modern-day Parable)
Place the plate of cookies on the table in the classroom.  After the prayer is said, the child or children (or obnoxious Elder) enter the classroom and ask you for some of the cookies.  You tell them no; the cookies are for your class.  You begin to write the reading assignment on the blackboard.  The children continue to pester you for cookies.  You tell them no, they must go to their own class.  You walk them to the door and send them out into the hall.  Back in the classroom, you say, "Now, where were we?"  But the children reenter the room and continue to plead.  You ignore them.  You begin to personally pass the cookies around the room to the class members, and the children follow you.  They are even so dramatic as to get on their knees and clasp their hands, crawling behind you and begging for cookies.  You continue to tell them no.  Finally, one of the children wraps his arms around your ankle and hangs on tight so that you must drag him along with you as you pass the cookies.  At this point, you finally give in and let the children have some cookies.  They happily say, "Thank you," and leave the class in peace. 

(This skit was a huge hit in my class years ago when my impish son and his like-wise impish friend acted it out--my class was incensed by the time they left, and then greatly entertained when they discovered it was a part of the lesson.)

Announce to the class:  That was "The Parable of the Irritated Mother" (or Roommate, or Teacher, or whatever your relationship is to the children who participated in the skit), otherwise known as "Whining Pays Off."

There is a parable just like this in the New Testament.

The Parable of the Unjust Judge
"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:  And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. 

"And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. 

"And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.  And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" (Luke 18:1-8).

When we know that even an unkind, unrighteous person in authority will aid us eventually if we continually beg, so much more will Heavenly Father, who loves us greatly, be willing to help us, but sometimes he requires us to persist in asking, in order to strengthen our faith.

A MAN HEALED PHYSICALLY BECAUSE HE PERSISTED

Blind Bartimaeus (his name is mentioned in Mark 10:46), sitting by the roadside, asks why a multitude is coming (Luke 18:35-36).  When he is told that is is a group following Jesus, he immediately begins to cry out, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me" (v. 38).  Although people try to quiet him, he only gets louder and more obnoxious until finally Jesus hears him and asks that he be brought to him (v. 39-40).  Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he would like him to do (v. 41), to which the blind man answers, "Lord, that I may receive my sight" (v. 42).  Jesus then restores his sight, telling him, "Thy faith hath made thee whole," (v. 42), and Bartimaeus joins the crowd following Jesus, and rejoices.

 A MAN HEALED SPIRITUALLY BECAUSE HE PERSISTED

Zacchaeus, a tax-collector and therefore a sort of traitor in the Jews' eyes, wanted to see who Jesus was (Luke 19:1-2), but because he was short, he couldn't see over the others, and because nobody particularly liked him, he could not get through the crowd (v. 3).  He didn't give up, though:  He ran ahead and climbed up into a large tree where he could look over the heads of Jesus' followers and see Jesus himself (v. 4).  This also allowed him to look over (or overlook) the way the disciples of Christ were treating him.

When Jesus came near to the tree, he looked up and saw Zacchaeus, called him by name, and invited himself to Zacchaeus' house (v. 5).  Zacchaeus received him joyfully (v. 6).  The crowd was amazed because their perception of Zacchaeus was that he was a sinner (v. 7).  But Zaccheaus knew his own worth and came before the Lord confident to report his standing--that he gave 50% of his salary in fast offerings (so to speak) and any time he made an error in tax-collecting, he returned 4 times what he should in order to make it right (v. 8).  Jesus affirmed that Zaccheaus was a good man and that now that he had found Christ, salvation had come to his household.  He told the crowd, Zacchaeus "also is a son of Abraham," or in our modern-day verbage, "Zaccheaus is a child of God, too."

OUR FAITH IS STRENGTHENED THROUGH PERSISTENCE AT ANY STAGE

Zacchaeus did not know much about Jesus.  "He sought to see Jesus who he was" (Luke 19:3).  His faith was at a beginner stage.  He had only the desire to believe. 

Bartimaeus was further along.  he knew Christ and already had a testmony of him (Luke 19:38).  He called Christ by his title as the Son of David.  Both of these men, at their own levels, had their faith strengthened through their persistence.

Do you think that Jesus did not know that Bartimaeus was there beside the road until he called?  Do you think that Jesus did not know that Zacchaeus was on the outside of the crowd until he climbed up the tree?  He did, but Jesus requires us to exercise our faith in order that it be strengthened.  Faith is a principle of action. (Bible Dictionary)

CHRIST REQUIRES PERSISTENCE EVEN FROM THOSE OF GREAT FAITH

Even those with great faith are required to stretch it even further, as exemplified by the experience of sisters Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus.  All three were dear friends of Jesus' and had great faith.

Lazarus fell deathly ill (John 11:1-2).  Mary and Martha had no doubt that Jesus could heal him, so they immediately sent for Jesus who was in another town (v. 3).  Jesus immediately knew the gravity of the situation.  He could have healed him without even going to Bethany.  He had done that before for the nobleman's son in John 4:43-54.  Why did he choose not to do that?  He gave the answer to that question before he even started his journey:  "for the glory of God" (v. 4).

Now, before the story progresses any further, the Apostle John, the narrator, assures us that "Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus" (v. 5).  Why does he make a point to tell us that?  Because very shortly it is going to appear that he doesn't care about them much at all. 

Purposely, Jesus took his time.  He waited for two more days and then headed to Judea (v. 6-7).

His apostles thought that he didn't go to Lazarus immediately because the Jews in that area had tried to kill him and surely would again, and when he did go, they questioned his wisdom (v. 8). A beautiful note from The Harper-Collins Study Bible"Having spoken of himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, Jesus now risks his life to give life to his friend Lazarus.  The result of this life giving is Jesus' own death." (p. 2034-35)

But Jesus was so filled with light and knowledge in his role as the Savior that he told them, "I do not err, because I am walking in the perfect light of the Spirit.  Someone else without any light in him might stumble and wonder what to do or whether to go, but I know exactly what will happen and at what time" (v. 9-10).  In fact, he stated that he knew already that Lazarus was dead (v. 11-14).  Then once again he stated that this was for a purpose; that Lazarus' death will cause their faith to grow: "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe" (v. 15).

Now here is another story of great faith:  The apostles did not have a perfect understanding of what Jesus had just said to them.  In their experience, there was great cause to fear.  In fact, they were certain Jesus would be killed.  Even so, they had enough faith that they were willing to go with him, to what they were certain would be their death.  Thomas did not play the part of a "doubter" here! (v. 16)  He was willing to die for his faith.

"Then when Jesus came, he found that [Lazarus] had lain in the grave four days already" (v. 17).  Jesus had waited two days, and then taken his two-day journey purposely so that Lazarus would have been dead for four days.  Why did it matter that Lazarus be dead for four days?  Twice before, Jesus had raised someone from the dead.  In Matt. 9:18-25, he raised the nobleman's daughter.  In Luke 7:11-17 he raised the widow's son.  The nobleman's daughter had still been in her bed, just recently dead.  The son was being carried on the funeral bier, only dead two days.  In a common tradition of the day, the Jews believed that the spirit lingered near the body, hoping for a chance to re-enter it for three days.  Then it left forever and the body began to decay.  Lazarus therefore, being dead four days, was dead beyond all hope of revival in their eyes.  He was dead and gone.  (Harper-Collins, p. 2035)

Mary and Martha heard from their home that Jesus was coming.  Martha, always the woman of action (she was the dish-doer in Luke 10:38-42), got up and went out of the town to meet him (v. 20).  Her first words to Jesus were an expression of her faith:  "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" and she added, "even now, I am sure that you could raise him, if you will" (v. 21-22).  She had not given up!  She was still asking, like the children after the cookies at the beginning of class, but with the spiritually mature clause, "if thou wilt."  She knew that Christ could raise him from the dead; she was just not sure if it was his will. 

Jesus told her that she was right; he did have the power.  "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live."  He asked Martha if she believed, and she answered that, Yes, she knew he was the Christ, the Messiah (v. 23-27).

Martha then went to get Mary, while Jesus stayed outside town, apparently hiding.  Knowing that there were enemies to Christ in the home, "mourning" with them (see v. 45-46), she whispered to Mary that Jesus was come (v. 28).  immediately Mary arose and went to meet him.  The Jews assembled in the home noticed Mary leaving and followed her, assuming she was going to the grave once more.  She met Jesus outside of town and said the exact same thing her sister did, obviously the lament they had been repeating to each other, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (v. 28-32).

Here follows the part of the story that most impresses us, the shortest and yet possibly most poignant of all scriptures:  "Jesus wept."  This verse is so important, we will come back to it in a moment.

Jesus then asked them to lead him to the grave and roll away the stone.  He knew where the grave was, and he could have rolled away the stone with a wave of his hand, just as he could have healed Lazarus without ever entering Judea.  But he required the exercise of their faith.  He wanted them to be participants.  Faith is a principle of action.

He thanked God out loud, and then called Lazarus to come forth.  He did not even remove the burial clothing from Lazarus and allow him to come out fresh and smiling, but asked for that one last action of unwrapping the cloth.  He wanted them to be a part of freeing Lazarus from the tomb.

In front of friends and enemies, disciples and unbelievers, Jesus presented Lazarus as an undeniable proof, demonstrating beyond any doubt that he had power over death:  "I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (v. 25).

JESUS SHARES OUR SORROW, EVEN AS HE STRETCHES OUR FAITH

Jesus had great love.  He loved Mary and Martha enough to stretch their faith, even though it was extremely painful to them.  Even though he knew he was doing the best thing for them, and it would all come out beautifully in the end, and they would be grateful to him, he felt terribly sorry that they had to go through the pain.

When I was a young mother, I took each one of my innocent, trusting, happy little infants into the health clinic to get them immunized.  It was always such a traumatic thing for me to have a little baby sitting on my lap, smiling up at me and cooing, obviously feeling total confidence that in my care he or she was completely safe...and then came the vaccination!  I can remember as plain as day the look of disbelief, of horror, that always spread over my babies' faces as they looked up at me, incredulous that I would allow this pain in my presence!  I always felt so awful I wanted to cry myself, because I had wilfully hurt my precious baby, even though I knew it was for their safety and health.  I always tried to make it up to them the rest of the day, holding them, and rocking them, and rubbing their little legs where the needle had gone in.  It was a painful and sad experience, but I knew it was necessary for their healthy growth and development.  I loved them enough that I allowed the essential pain.

I think that is something like how Jesus felt when he saw Mary and Martha asking in their innocence why they had to have this pain and sorrow.  Why, when they knew Jesus had the power to prevent it?  Why, when they had the faith for Lazarus to be healed?  He had sent a message to them on the day of Lazarus' death, trying to let them in on the whole story, telling the messenger who brought him the news and would surely be reporting back, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God" (v. 4).  But like a baby being immunized, they had not understood and had only felt the pain.

Jesus feels the same pain for us when our faith is tested almost beyond its strength.  He is always sending us messages, like he did to Mary and Martha, through the scriptures, through the prophets and apostles, through Sacrament meeting speakers, through visiting teachers or Ensign articles.  He tries to fill us in on the whole plan; he tries to help us see the whole picture so that we will not have so much pain, but in the end, he knows that we may have to go through pain in order for our faith to grow.  It was even a part of his role as the Savior of the world to "bear our griefs and carry our sorrows" (Isaiah 53:4), going forth "suffering pains and afflictions...that he might know how to succor his children" (Alma 7:11-12).

He knows that our faith is more important than our pain.  But he knows it still hurts.  And if we can realize that he loves us much more than a mother loves her baby, we can know that as we go through our trials, he sheds his own tears for our suffering.  And once we've gone through the worst of the pain, his arms will be around us, assuring us of his love, comforting us all the more.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New Testament Lesson #18 "He Was Lost, and is Found"

Luke 15; 17

Jesus sits with sinners and publicans and the Pharisees question why (v. 1-3).  By relating three parables, Jesus explains that he is finding what is his, but which has been lost:

THE PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP (Luke 15:4-7)

Chalkboard Diagram:


Lost Item
How Lost
How Found
Result
Sheep
Unintentionally wandered
Shepherd sought out & led back
Rejoicing!

This parable used symbols that Jewish men would relate to:  everyone understood the role of a shepherd, and the importance of sheep.  (See "The Good Shepherd" in a previous post.)

How does this parable relate to us today?  (Some answers may be that a person drifts into inactivity in the Church, and a home or visiting teacher, neighbor, or leader goes out of his/her way to visit often, to invite to socials, to coax back to activity.  Someone in the class may be able to tell a personal story that reflects this parable in his or her life.)

THE PARABLE OF THE LOST COIN (Luke 15:8-10)

Chalkboard Diagram:


Lost Item
How Lost
How Found
Result
Sheep
Unintentionally wandered
Shepherd sought out & led back
Rejoicing!
Coin
Neglect of the woman
Woman swept floor to remove dirt & debris covering coin
Rejoicing!


This parable used symbols that Jewish women would easily relate to.  Every woman, of course, had to sweep her floor frequently.  Money was vital to everyone in their culture.

How does this parable relate to us today?  (Some answers may include a person feeling unappreciated or overlooked by the congregation, especially as a new member, and staying away from church.  Then a bishop and his correlation committee taking careful stock of the ward and noticing the person has been missing.  Ward members then taking extra effort to sweep away the offences that may be keeping the person away, or overcoming the cultural misunderstandings, or the shyness of the individual, or the feeling of being undervalued.  All of these may be dust, dirt or garbage that is preventing a coin from shining and revealing its value.  Again, someone in the class may have a personal experience to share.)

THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (v. 11-32)

Chalkboard Diagram:


Lost Item
How Lost
How Found
Result
Sheep
Unintentionally wandered
Shepherd sought out & led back
Rejoicing!
Coin
Neglect of the woman
Woman swept floor to remove dirt & debris covering coin
Rejoicing!
Son
Willful rebellion
Father watched, waited, never gave up
Rejoicing
&
Resentment


What is different in this story?  The mixed result:  rejoicing & resentment.  Something is wrong in this story, and that is the important part we need to understand in order to be true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Characters (Luke 15:11)
In the previous two parables, there were only two principal characters:  the shepherd/woman, and the lost sheep/coin.  In this third parable, there are three: the father, the "lost" younger son, and the faithful elder son.

The Younger Son (Luke 15:12-13)
The story begins with the younger son rebelling, begging to have his inheritance prematurely given, taking the inheritance and leaving the family.

The word "prodigal" means "wasteful."  This son had something of great value and he threw it away--not only the wealth of his inheritance, but the love and companionship of his family.  In fact, requesting his inheritance early was an extreme humiliation to his family.  It indicated that he wished his father was dead so he could have his money now, that he wanted his inheritance without working for it over the years as a family member, and of course, that he had no desire to be a member of this good family.  (Kenneth E. Bailey, former New Testament professor at Israel's Tantur Ecumenical Institute, "The Pursuing Father," Christianity Today, 10-26-1998, quoted in an AP article in The Herald Journal, 11-26-1998, and online at NationalCatholicRegister.com.)



The Father (Luke 15:12)
Nothing is said about how the father raised this son.  This is important to note: What the father did or didn't do prior to this point is not relevant; the son chose to leave. 

We will see how the character of the father is revealed throughout the story to be completely different than the character of an ordinary human Jewish father.

The first deviation from the traditional Jewish father is found in his response to the son's request.  Despite the ingratitude and rudeness of the son, despite the fact that transferring the inheritance before the father's death violated Jewish law, despite the cultural expectation that such a son should be driven from the home and family, despite the obvious embarassment of "a horrendous family breakdown...the father grants the inheritance and the right to sell, knowing that this right will shame the family before the community." (Bailey)

The Turning Point (Luke 15:14-19)
The prodigal son got just exactly what he deserved.  He wasted everything he had, and then an act of God, "a famine in that land," brought him to the point of absolute poverty.  He was so selfish, and so unattached to others, that when he was starving, there was not a soul who cared to give him food.  He had to steal it from the pigs he was hired to feed. 

A Jewish man would have been doubly shamed.

But then...these beautiful words:  "He came to himself."  It's always good to remember that when someone is acting the part of a prodigal son, he is not himself, he is not permanently defined by those willful and wayward acts, and his own divine nature is always still hidden inside somewhere, ready for him to "come back to himself".

In this case, that divine intelligence inside this desperate man realized there was a light at the end of his deep, dark tunnel, and that light was his father.  "I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants" (Luke 15:17-19). 

It is remarkable that the son had hope in his father's response, considering the tough Jewish customs that prevailed at the time.  “From the Jerusalem Talmud it is known that the Jews of the time of Jesus had a method of punishing any Jewish boy who lost the family inheritance to Gentiles. It was called the ‘qetsatsah ceremony.’ … The villagers would bring a large earthenware jar, fill it with burned nuts and burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual. While doing this, the community would shout, ‘So-and-so is cut off from his people.’ From that point on, the village would have nothing to do with the wayward lad.”  (Bailey)

The son, however, was counting on mercy.  That showed a remarkable, if small, faith in and knowledge of his father.

The Father Ran
"When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." (Luke 15:20)  Here is another major deviation from the expected behavior of a Jewish father in Christ's day:  "Traditional Middle Easterners, wearing long robes, do not run in public. To do so is deeply humiliating. This father runs." (Bailey)


The father had been watching, waiting, hoping!  Did he wait until the son was "all the way back home" to rejoice and accept him?  No!  At the first sign, "when he was yet a great way off," his grateful celebration began, and he bridged the gap between himself and his son at the first possible opportunity.



Instead of instigating the public ritual of cutting his son off from the Jewish community for his humiliating behavior, the father bore the embarassment of a disobedient son in front of the whole village.  He was much more concerned about his son than about his social standing.  He never said, "I told you so!"  It was only, "Welcome home!  I love you!"  No punishment was meted out upon the son.  He was frankly forgiven without having the means to make up what he had destroyed.  And in a complete upset of tradition, the father hosted a public celebration honoring the return of his lost son.

The Father Cares for Both (Luke 15:28-29)
In the midst of the celebration, the father noticed his elder son was absent.  He sent an inquiry as to why.  The older son answered that he was angry and would not go in.  Here adds another blow to the father. 

“For a son to be present and to refuse participation in such a banquet is an unspeakable public insult to the father. … [Again] the father goes beyond what a traditional patriarch would do. … In painful public humiliation, the father goes down and out to find yet one more lost sheep/coin/son.” (Bailey)

The father listens to his older son's complaint.  He is concerned about both sons' feelings and both sons' growth on their own levels.  He treats each as he needs to be treated.  Never is a comparison made.

The "Good" Son (Luke 15:25-27,31)
Nothing is said about how the younger brother treated his older brother previous to the family break-up, therefore we can assume that this is also irrelevant to the point of the story. 

When the prodigal brother returned, the older brother was out doing his work, keeping at his duty.  Undoubtedly he had had to do extra work because of his brother's absence.  He had been faithful.  He had never left his father.  He was doing everything "right."  In fact, he was so busy working, he had not known his brother was back until the feast was in full swing. 

Unlike his father, he had not been watching.

His relationship with his brother had been distanced; when complaining to his father, he referred to his brother not as "my brother", but as "thy son." (verse 30).  What had caused this rift?  Competition!  Comparing!  "Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends" (verse 29). 


The elder son had the greater blessings all along, but was ungrateful and unforgiving as soon as his brother had something he didn't.  The father tells him, "You misunderstand that what you already have is of much more value than a fatted calf."  "Thou art ever with me."  "You didn't have to suffer the consequences your brother suffered from his mistakes.  You were never starving, desperate, alone."  Furthermore, "All that I have is thine." "You still have your full inheritance.  You have not lost one thing because of his return."  (Although the prodigal son was forgiven, the money was gone and was not replaced.  His place in the household was restored, but there was a part of his life that he missed and which cannot be recovered.)



The older son had forgotten his real relationship to his younger brother!  In Jewish custom, the oldest son was the birthright son and received double the inheritance that the rest of the sons did.  This was to give him the means to fulfill his responsibility to take care of anyone in the family who might need help--a widow, an orphan, a disabled brother.  He was basically considered a sub-parent, and at the death of the father would assume the role of patriarch.

His father reminded him of this role when he said, "It was meet [necessary] that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother"--notice he says "thy brother," not "my son"--"was dead, and is alive again: and was lost, and is found" (verse 32).  In effect, the father said, "Aren't you and I on the same side?  Don't we share the same role?  Shouldn't we both be rejoicing?"


The Missing Conclusion
The response of the elder son is not given in order that Jesus may draw the listener up onto the stage to finish the drama, and give an answer for himself.  What will the birthright son (the Pharisee, the Jew, the active Latter-day Saint, the obedient "white sheep" family member) do?  Will he stay away from the feast and punish himself and his father with his bitterness, or will he remember his role as a sub-parent or under-shepherd and follow the example of love and acceptance his father has set?

The Role of a Birthright Son, Member of the House of Israel, Latter-day Saint
The ideal relationship hoped for by the father of the parable, and the Father of us all is this:



It's very important that we be able to answer the question posed by this parable correctly, because the alternative to joining the Father in welcoming and forgiving the prodigals in our lives is not good:  It means cutting ourselves off from the joy of feasting with the Lord in His Kingdom.  And if we do that, there remains in us the greater sin, the great condemnation, and the greater suffering.  (D&C 64:9)


Note:  The Church has a very thought-provoking 30-minute video depicting the parable of the prodigal son in a modern-day setting.  It doesn't appear to be available online, but it should be in most meetinghouse libraries.