Thursday, May 9, 2019

Come Follow Me: Matthew 19-20; Mark 10; Luke 18

     The upcoming lesson for this coming Sunday (May 12) covers Matthew 19-20, Mark 10, and Luke 18. Key topics outlined in the Come Follow Me manual are marriage (and divorce), the parable of the laborers, the story of the rich young man, and the parable of the praying Pharisee and publican. But these chapters are very full, and so we also have the parable of the unjust judge, Christ inviting the children to come unto him, Christ healing a blind man, Christ foretelling of his crucifixion, and rebuking certain of the Apostles who sought a promise that they would sit at his right and left hands, respectively, in the Kingdom of God.

Marriage and Divorce:

      Matthew 19 and Mark 10 both start with the Pharisees again attempting to entrap Jesus, this time with a question about divorce. (See Matthew 19:3-9). To understand the question and response, its best to have some background. Mosaic law essentially provided for what we would call "no-fault divorce." Deuteronomy 24:1, for instance, stated: "When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness [i.e., fault] in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house." There were few restrictions on divorce. In fact, there appeared to be mainly only two instances where divorce was forbidden: (1) where the man slandered his wife to justify a divorce by falsely accusing her of not being a virgin at the time of marriage (Deut. 22:13-19) (if true, this would allow him to divorce but retain the dowry), and (2) what essentially describes a shotgun wedding (Deut. 22:28-29).

       From Matthew:
3 ¶ The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? 
4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 
5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 
7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 
8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 
9 And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
The account in Mark also adds: "And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." (Mark 10:12). This is not an insignificant verse, considering that women initiate divorce in 70% of cases, and generally do so because of a lack of satisfaction in the marriage rather than for what historically would have been considered cause for divorce.

     In any event, the basic take-away from this is that the Lord has condemned and rejected no-fault divorce. The Lord's comments should be taken as a condemnation of the habits and practices that mark much of the modern trends of divorce, and as a commandment to preserve the family unit.

      As a final note, God, thankfully, knows the end from the beginning, so we also have some direction to our current clown world of gay marriage and gender dysfunction. That is, Christ describes two distinct sexes--male and female--and that marriage is to be between a man and a woman. QED.

     One of the lessons we should take away from this is that the current family-law system in the United States--in fact, most of the world--is the direct antithesis of what Christ taught.

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard:

       This parable is found in Matthew 20:1-16. To summarize, the parable recounts the owner of vineyard hiring day laborers to perform work in his vineyard. He initially goes out early in the morning (i.e., about 6 a.m.) and recruits laborers for "a penny" (a Roman denarius, a silver coin that at the time of Christ represented the typical daily wage of a laborer or soldier). Subsequently, at about the 3rd hour (9 a.m.), the owner recruits additional workers for the promise of a denarius, and again at the 6th hour (noon), 9th hour (3 p.m.), and 11th hour (5 p.m.). At the end of the day, he pays each of the laborers the promised denarius. Those that worked long hours become upset that they were not paid more than those that only labored a short time, and complained to the master:
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
      Obviously, the primary lesson from this is that it doesn't matter if we "labor" for the Lord from our youths, or become converted later in life, but that we all have the prospect of receiving the full blessings that the Lord has promised. In researching this parable, I came across a 2003 Ensign article by Henry F. Acebedo, where he explained:
      Many of us have jobs that pay by the hour. For all of us, the harder and longer we work, the more we expect to be paid. But the economy of heaven is different. When we are baptized, ordained to the priesthood, or participate in the ordinances of the holy temple, we covenant to be obedient to God and magnify our callings. In return, the Lord promises that if we are faithful we will receive “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38), or exaltation in the celestial kingdom of God (see D&C 84:33–41). There is no higher wage or reward that the Lord can offer; it is the greatest of all His gifts (see D&C 14:7).
 * * *
       When the Lord calls, we should not worry about the pay. We should simply go to work and do our best. What does it matter who gets the credit? We should thank the Lord for the opportunity to work in His vineyard.
* * *
       Experienced and new members will be greatly blessed as they work side by side to accomplish the great latter-day harvest. Each of us needs to work at our own assignments with all our heart, might, mind, and strength. We are to avoid becoming jealous of the rewards or accomplishments of other disciples. When we work with an eye single to the glory of God, we leave the eventual reward or glory for such labors to the judgment of the Lord. 

      Does my service of more than 25 years entitle me to a greater reward in heaven than a new convert who is faithful but who may give only a short period of service before passing beyond the veil? The Lord’s answer is no. To those who qualify for the celestial kingdom, the promise of the Father is that all who labor, no matter when each is called into the vineyard, will be “equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:95). The Lord is a generous paymaster. He will surely pay “whatsoever is right.”

     A couple of other points. First, I think the use of the term "Friend" is significant, indicating the master's concern for his workers and a shared purpose and comradery. (See James 2:23).

    The phrase "so the last shall be first, and the first last" has always struck me as foreshadowing the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles and its rejection by the Jews until the time of the Second Coming. The last (the Gentiles) became the first, and the first (the Jews) shall be the last.

    "For many shall be called but few chosen" is a warning that many shall be preached to, perhaps even accept the Gospel, but those that actually head that call and endure to the end shall be relatively few.

The Story of the Rich Young Man

    This incident is recorded in both Matthew 19:16-26 and Mark 10:17-27. A young rich man (in some translations, a young ruler) comes to Christ and asks what he needs to do to obtain eternal life. The Lord tells him to follow the commandments (listing several of the Ten Commandments), which the youth affirms that he has done. So the Lord then tells him to give up all he has and to become one of his disciples, but the youth goes away sorrowing because he had many riches. In essence, the youth is one of the many that were called, but was not part of the few that were chosen (at least at this time ... who knows what happened afterward?).

    This story implicates two topics that come up frequently in the scriptures--(1) not to worship the works of our own hands (including wealth that we may have accumulated), and (2) that no man can serve two masters (e.g., God and mammon)--and the great commandment that we love God with all of our heart. Thus, after this incident, Christ explains that it will be more difficult for the rich to enter heaven than to get a camel through the eye of a needle. This is because of the love that the wealthy generally have for their wealth, making it nigh impossible for them to love God with their whole hearts.

The Parable of the Praying Pharisee and the Publican.

    This parable is found at Luke 18:9-14. It is a warning of being too smug (or prideful) of our virtuousness. In the story, two men went to the Temple to pray: a Pharisee and the Publican. From a talk by Howard W. Hunter in the April 1984 General Conference:
The Pharisees were the largest and most influential of the three sects of Judaism at the time of Christ. The Pharisaic movement in the Jewish state rose from the ranks of the lay lawyers of the Greek period to become the leading religious and political party. The main characteristics of the Pharisees were their legalism and their legalistic inflexibility. They were known for their strict accuracy in the interpretation of the law and their scrupulous adherence to living the law in every minute detail. This caused them to be known as the strictest of Jewish sects in observing their tradition. They shunned the non-Pharisee as being unclean, thereby keeping themselves separated from those they considered to be the common people.
Conversely:
      Publicans were tax collectors and were looked down upon with contempt. Ordinary taxes, such as land taxes, were collected by the Roman officials; but toll taxes for transporting goods were usually collected by Jews under contract with the Romans. These collectors, or publicans, made a profit on the transactions. Their fellow countrymen had no higher regard for them than for thieves and robbers. The trade lent itself to graft and extortion, and the publicans had the reputation of having some of the tax money stick to their own fingers. 
      The Jews were smarting under Roman occupation and domination, and they considered the payment of taxes as a tribute to Caesar. Jews who made such collections for the Romans were regarded as traitors and as despicable for selling their services to a foreign conqueror. Publicans and members of their families were considered so contemptible that they were not allowed to hold public office or give testimony in a Jewish court. 
    In the parable, the Pharisee boastfully prayed to God about how glad he was not like the deplorable, clutching to his Bible and guns, but worshiped mother Gaia, said all the politically correct things, and was otherwise morally superior. Oh, sorry. Wrong time period. Anyway, the Pharisee boasted to God about what a good person he was, as compared to the miserable Publican. The Publican, meanwhile, "standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner." President Hunter explained:
      Could there be greater contrast in the prayers of two men? The Pharisee stood apart because he believed he was better than other men, whom he considered as common. The publican stood apart also, but it was because he felt himself unworthy. The Pharisee thought of no one other than himself and regarded everyone else a sinner, whereas the publican thought of everyone else as righteous as compared with himself, a sinner. The Pharisee asked nothing of God, but relied upon his own self-righteousness. The publican appealed to God for mercy and forgiveness of his sins.
* * *
      Continuing the story, Jesus then said: “I tell you, this man,” referring to the publican, the despised tax collector, “went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” (Luke 18:14.) In other words, the Lord said he was absolved, forgiven, or vindicated. 
      This statement gives meaning to what the Savior said on another occasion: “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20.) [Ed: Christ could certainly be sarcastic when he wanted to be]
      The Master then concluded the parable with these words: “For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (Luke 18:14.) These are almost the same words spoken by him in the house of one of the chief Pharisees. (See Luke 14:11.) 
       Humility is an attribute of godliness possessed by true Saints. It is easy to understand why a proud man fails. He is content to rely upon himself only. This is evident in those who seek social position or who push others aside to gain position in fields of business, government, education, sports, or other endeavors. Our genuine concern should be for the success of others. The proud man shuts himself off from God, and when he does he no longer lives in the light. 

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