“What Lack I Yet?”: #BCCSundaySchool2019

The readings for this lesson deal with a few different substantive topics: Marriage and divorce, the role of material wealth in a disciple’s life, prayer, soteriology (the theology of what it means to be saved and how we are saved), church leadership, children, and miraculous healing.

But if there is a unifying theme to these readings it is how Jesus’s teaching often disrupt what are often our natural or cultural beliefs about what is righteous and call us to believe and practice something that is much harder to believe, and much more demanding to practice. We naturally and culturally want to believe that we can be righteous by following the rules, and that therefore, if we just find out the right rules, we can make ourselves righteous and earn salvation or exaltation or blessings by following them.

But Jesus’s message over and over in these readings is that following the rules won’t make you righteous. Instead, if you want to become righteous you have to become a fundamentally different kind of person. The kind of person that humbles himself as a child, sells all that he has and gives it to the poor, serves others, and rather than glorying in his obedience to the commandments, begs only to be forgiven for all the ways he has failed to keep them, and follows Jesus all the way to the cross.

Readings: Matthew 19-20, Mark 10, Luke 18.

  • Jesus’s teachings on divorce and marriage (Mark 10:2-12; Matthew 19:3-12).
  • The parable of the persistent plaintiff (Luke 18:1-8).
  • The parable of the unjustified commandment-keeper and the justified repentant sinner (Luke 18:9-14).
  • Jesus blesses little children (Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17).
  • Jesus and the rich young man (or ruler) (Mark 10:17-31; Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30).
  • The parable of the employer that didn’t pay his day laborers by the hour (Matthew 20:1-16).
  • Jesus prophesies of his death and resurrection (Mark 10:32-34; Matthew 20:17-19; Luke 18:31-34).
  • Jesus teaches that primacy comes through service (Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 20:20-28).
  • Jesus heals Bartimeas (or one or two unnamed men) of blindness (Mark 10:46-52; Matthew 20:30-34; Luke 18:35-43).

I. The Parable of the Unjustified Commandment Keeper and the Justified Repentant Sinner.

The second parable Jesus gives in Luke 18 is probably the best encapsulation of the theme of these readings. This parable is one of two parables about prayer. The first is often called the parable of the unjust judge, but I think that puts the emphasis in the wrong place, so I’m calling it the parable of the persistent plaintiff. The story is that a woman has a just claim, but the judge is an “unjust” judge that refuses to grant her relief. Nevertheless, she persists in wearying him until, though he has not changed into a just man, he gives in to her asking and does the right thing. The point is that even bad people can do the right thing if we just ask, so all the more will God, who is just, do what is right when we ask, so we should always pray to him.

And what should we ask for? That’s where the second parable comes in. Two men go up to the temple. One is a very righteous man. He keeps all the commandments and he knows it. He thanks god that he is “not like other men” who disobey the commandments. The other, a tax collector for the Romans–a traitor to his people, a collaborator with the occupying force–humbles himself before god, is painfully aware of his unworthiness, and only begs to be forgiven for all his many sins. This man, the repentant sinner, leaves the temple justified, Jesus says, while the man who scrupulously keeps the commandments does not.

In this parable, Jesus disrupts our natural and cultural beliefs about righteousness–that it comes from obedience, that it can be attained by human effort–and declares that it is only in humility and submission to god that we can become righteous.

The rest of these readings apply this theme in three areas: sex (divorce and marriage), money (the rich young man and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard) and power (leadership/primacy through service).

II. Divorce and Marriage.

In Mark 10 and Matthew 19, Jesus addresses marriage and divorce.

But first, let’s look at the context. He’s not just pontificating on marriage out of nowhere, he’s trying to thread a difficult needle posed to him by certain Pharisees that were trying to “tempt” him–that is, to trick him into saying something against the Mosaic law and prophetic traditions that they could use to build a case of blasphemy against him.

So they asked him whether it was “lawful” for a man to divorce his wife. Let’s pause and think about that. The Pharisees knew that the answer to that question specifically under the law of Moses wasn’t particularly difficult or unclear: Moses’s law permitted divorce, it just required a husband to do so formally, thus formally freeing his wife from her obligations to him. But at the same time, for Jesus to come out too strongly supporting Moses might put him at odds with the prophet Malachi’s declaration that “the Lord hateth putting away [i.e. divorce]” because in most cases it is a case of “a man cover[ing] violence” with his legal privilege to divorce his wife for any reason (Malachi 2:15). The way they framed the question suggests, to me, that perhaps these Pharisees expected Jesus to answer like Malachi did, which would certainly be consistent with Jesus’s overall message of exalting the poor and the humble and humbling the rich and privileged, and perhaps they hoped to catch him saying something in Malachi’s register that they could frame as speaking against Moses’s law.

One important reminder: “divorce” in the New Testament is not like divorce in the United States today, where either party can initiate divorce proceedings. Only men could divorce. A woman could petition her husband to give her a divorce, but he held all the power. So the question they ask Jesus is not whether a wife can divorce her husband; it’s entirely focused on what the man can do. They did not ask, and Jesus did not answer, the question of whether it is ever permissible or moral for husbands and wives to have the mutual ability to divorce one another. The question he was asked was simply whether it was lawful under Moses’s law for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.

Jesus’s answer here, like most of his answers to the Pharisees, is smart lawyering: First he turns the question back onto them: “Well, what do you think? What did Moses say?” (Well, this is what he does in Mark. In Matthew he skips the question and goes straight to his answer about the eternal nature of marriage.) This has two advantages. First, it allows him to stall for time, which is a tactic he uses in other places (see, e.g., writing on the ground and pretending not to hear when they drag the woman caught in adultery before him). Second, it allows him to use their own interpretation of Moses against them, rather than give his own interpretation that they could then use against him. The reason for this is that the Pharisees were themselves engaged in a hot debate over the proper interpretation of Moses’s law. One view was that a man should divorce his wife only if he finds she was guilty of something like adultery. The other view was that he should divorce her if she displeases him in any way at all. So by asking them what they thought, Jesus avoided wading into that particular intra-Pharisee debate.

They of course give him Moses’s answer: “If a man gets rid of his wife, he must give her a divorce certificate.” And then Jesus threads the needle, giving an answer that does not attack their answer under Moses’s law, but that also affirms Malachi by calling into question the more fundamental notion of whether Moses’ law reflected eternal principles of morality: Moses’s law permits a man to divorce his wife (and regulates how men must do it) because of the fallen nature of mortality (the “hardness of your hearts”), but the ideal would be just as Malachi taught: that two people once married would be so joined in unity by God that the husband would not dare to put himself “asunder” from his wife.

The evil that Jesus (and Malachi) is primarily condemning is not just divorce in the abstract; it is the evil of a man using his legal privilege to divorce his wife as a means to cloak himself while he commits violence and sin–even though he was fully justified by the letter of the law to do so as long as he complied with the proper procedure. The point is that the fact that such a man was in compliance with the letter of the law and followed the procedural requirement of giving her a formal divorce did not mean that he was a righteous man, because marriage is not about procedural compliance, it is about fundamental oneness, and the procedural marriage and divorce regulations of the law of Moses–though they were necessary because of the reality of fallen mortality–were not eternal principles, and not a reliable absolute guide to morality. Jesus deftly finds a way to affirm both Malachi and Moses.

Jesus goes on (though, in Mark he says this part in private to his disciples) to say that not only is divorce not ideal, but that those who divorce and remarry are committing adultery. As Matthew tells it, Jesus still allows divorce his wife at least in some circumstances–specifically in cases of adultery–consistent with the more conservative interpretation of Moses’s law. And in fact, that is the way that most churches treat divorce today–allowing it at least under certain circumstances rather than prohibiting it altogether. The Catholics probably come closest to taking it literally, but even the Catholics have found a loophole permitting what many people would call divorce under the rubric of annulment–not a determination that the marriage is over, but a recognition that it never properly began. This is an important doctrinal distinction to the Catholic church, and I don’t mean any disrespect by calling it a loophole, but in practice, it is not too different, in many cases, from recognizing divorce.

But in my opinion, the important things about this passage aren’t necessarily the precise details of when divorce may be allowable but: (1) Jesus’s really good lawyering, (2) his message that marriage is about attaining an inseparable oneness, and most importantly (3) that the letter of the rules in the law about marriage and divorce does not define what is actually righteous in God’s eyes.

II. Money.

A. The Rich Young Man.

Jesus again addresses that last theme in his interaction with the rich young man who comes to him in Mark 10, Matthew 19, and Luke 18. This is less confrontational than the interaction with the Pharisees, but it follows a similar structure: a question to Jesus, a reference to the commandments, and then a teaching from Jesus that makes hard demands and challenges the questioner’s notions of righteousness.

The rich young man asks Jesus, calling him “good master” what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus questions him calling him “good” and emphasizes that only god is good, but then gives the traditional answer: go keep the commandments. Well, this isn’t very satisfying because there are lots of commandments. So he man asks which ones? Jesus lists off a few, and the young man answers that he’s kept them since he was a child. But the man senses that perhaps Jesus’s answer to keep the commandments left something unsaid because he asks “what lack I yet?” So Jesus tells him he must go and sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor, and then come and follow Jesus. The young man leaves “sorrowful” because “he had great possessions.”

From a rule-based perspective, Jesus’s statement seems unfair, doesn’t it? If this man was following all the rules, and if that’s what it means to be righteous, then why should Jesus add extra rules that aren’t even in the commandments? Isn’t that what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for doing by “building a hedge about the law”? If the commandments didn’t require him to give away his wealth, then why should Jesus ask him to do that in order to become righteous? Well, the reason is clear: righteousness does not come from obeying the commandments, it comes from a fundamental change of heart and a total commitment of discipleship.

But from another perspective, this man should not have been surprised by Jesus’s statement. Jesus’s overall message was one of humbling the rich and exalting the poor. This man’s seeming surprise at Jesus’s statement suggests that maybe he wasn’t all that familiar with Jesus’s message to begin with.

I’ve seen so many lessons that treat this passage of scripture as though it were just vaguely about self-improvement–“if you pray, God will inspire you to know what you need to work on”–and not specifically about our relationship with money as a thing that holds us back from spiritual development. I think that’s a mistake. This story wasn’t told and retold and recorded as scripture just to make a generic point about self-improvement. Jesus specifically chose to tell this man he had to give up his money–and not just that he had to leave his money, but specifically that he had to give it all to the poor before he could follow Jesus. And just in case we didn’t get it, Jesus follows the story up by turning to his disciples and telling them “A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” and in fact “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” And no, there’s no such thing as a tiny gate in the wall of Jerusalem called “the eye of needle” that a camel could get through if it stripped off its burdens–that’s just an invention by a seminary teacher that we perpetuated for a long time because we didn’t like confronting the literalism of this passage. Jesus said what he meant, and he meant what he said. I think we do this passage a disservice when we gloss over or dance around Jesus’s “hard saying” about the spiritual danger of money.

But the disciples didn’t miss the point. In fact, “they were exceedingly amazed” by this teaching and asked if not even this rich man who was apparently genuinely very obedient can be saved, then who could be saved at all? Jesus’s answer is clear: salvation does not come from human effort, but from divine grace: “with men this [salvation] is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

But the disciples are still thinking in transactional terms: if we do x, god will give us y. Peter, for example, appears to be thinking something like, hey, that guy wasn’t willing for forsake his wealth and follow Jesus, but look at us, we did just that, so what kind of reward are we looking at?” And Jesus affirms that yes, in fact, those who forsake “houses,” or family, or “lands” for the sake of the gospel “shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” But, crucially, Jesus goes on to explain that it’s not about transactional blessings. Rather, “many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” It’s not entirely clear what “last” and “first” here are referring to, but it seems to me that at least one meaning is that many of those who appear to be “first” in their outward obedience will be “last” when it comes to their reward in heaven.

B. The employer that paid all his day laborers equally.

And that leads Jesus to the parable of the employer who doesn’t pay his day laborers by the hour:

In this parable, an owner of a vineyard goes out to find day laborers to work in the vineyard. He goes out five times: early in the morning, at the third hour (roughly 9:00am), the sixth hour (roughly 12:00pm), the ninth hour (roughly 3:00pm) and the eleventh hour (approximately 5:00pm). Each time he hires some more day laborers to come work in the vineyard. With the first group he agrees to pay them one day’s wages. With the other four groups he simply agrees to pay them “whatsoever is right.”

At the end of the day, he pays them all the same: one day’s wages. The first group protests, saying essentially that it isn’t fair that the owner has “made [the later groups] equal to [the first group]” because they worked more hours. The owner responds that the first group is getting exactly what they bargained for and agreed to, the fact that somebody else is getting the same, though they did less work, does not change that.

This parable challenges our notions of what is fair. In our western, capitalist culture, we want to believe that fair means getting what we have earned by our own efforts. We’re scared that if people get something they didn’t earn that it’s somehow unfair to us. We give in to absurd fears that if poor people aren’t forced to work for what they receive they’ll become lazy and repeat absurd platitudes about fish to make ourselves feel better about not giving freely. Jesus challenges these notions by telling a story that explicitly asserts that “what is right” is not dependent on the amount of work each laborer has performed.

Like the previous parables teach that righteousness is not achieved through obedience, this one teaches that the level of salvation, or blessings that a person receives does not need to be proportional to the level of efforts or the level of obedience that person has achieved. The wages given to the 11th, 9th, 6th, and 3rd hour laborers are a reward for their willingness to work, not a wage earned by the hours they worked. In the same way, salvation, as Elder Uchtdorf has taught us, “is not purchased with the currency of obedience.”

It can be difficult to get out of the transactional mindset that insists that blessings must be earned by obedience, that righteousness come from obedience, but that is what Jesus calls us to do.

These two stories, the story of the rich young man, and the parable of the employer that paid all his day laborers equally, tell us something important about money and the mindset that accompanies it: money is dangerous, we must be willing to give it up freely to the poor, without worrying about whether it belongs to us because we earned it. We must get past the transactional mindset that money tempts us to adopt, and move on to the grace-filled mindset that the gospel is based on, where our willingness to obey god and his willingness to bless us are independent of one another, motivated by love, and given freely with no expectation of reward, rather than bargained for.

III. Power.

Finally, the last area where Jesus disrupts and challenges our natural and cultural expectations and beliefs is when it comes to power, leadership, or primacy.

This incident comes about from a little bit of a disagreement between the disciples. Two the disciples (or in Matthew, their mother) ask Jesus if they can be first among the 12. His response is to question whether they care capable of following him and of participating fully in the “cup” and the “baptism” that he will require of them.

The other ten hear about this and are angry with the two who made this request of Jesus. Jesus’s response is that the problem here is that the disciples are thinking about it all wrong. They were thinking of hierarchy and power and primacy. They were thinking like “the gentiles” whose leaders exercise “dominion” and “authority” over them. Instead, Jesus explains, the disciples must follow a different model: the leader must be the servant. The reason for this is that the leader must do what Jesus told James and John they must do: follow the pattern that Jesus himself is going to provide. And that pattern is to serve, and ultimately to give his own life for others.

Again, Jesus disrupts our expectations with a paradox. Just as we can’t become righteous and earn blessings by following rules, we also can’t become great leaders in the church by exercising authority. Instead, the greatest must be the servant. Just as the publican was justified by humbling himself, so to the disciple will be exalting through humbling himself and giving service to others, not by exercising authority over others.

 

Comments

  1. I believe that we have discovered two of the golden calves in our midst, the prosperity gospel, and the checklist gospel. The longer I live, the greater my admiration for grace, and the more I recognize the hollowness of obedience for obedience’s sake. You have eloquently expressed the things that occasionally keep me awake at night.

  2. You’ve done a real service by teasing out what all these moving parts have in common. Thank you — I’ll be reading this more than once this week.

  3. I need help. I sent out an email with my reminder about the reading along with some thought questions for this week and it included many thoughts similar to what is here. I got several responses from my ward members telling me that “of course blessings follow obedience–and prosperity is one such blessing” and “obedience is the first law of the Gospel.” One older stalwart said that those who work harder will have an advantage and a greater reward in the life to come. The other 2 emails also said that my “take” on the readings from the New Testament about Christ’s concern over materialism seemed anti-capitalist and pro-socialist and to keep my politics out of Sunday School. I am not a socialist and I am flabbergasted that this week’s reading caused such a reaction. I rarely get feedback to my emails. Should I respond? If you are a veteran teacher, have you ever gotten pushback over teaching what Christ is clearly laying out about wealth and materialism? Why is this lesson so hard?

  4. Sidebottom says:

    The “eye of the needle is a gate in Jerusalem” malarkey pre-dates the Reformation.

  5. Thanks, Sidebottom. I guess it was perpetuated by a seminary teacher, then, not invented by one.

  6. Sidebottom says:

    I still hear it every time this scripture is quoted. Has amazing staying power.

  7. Often perplexed: I don’t know that I’d call myself a veteran, but I find that the class discussion is best when it focuses on specifics in the text were studying. So I like to remind class members that we’re not having a talk about things that we generally believe to be true about life and the universe; we’re talking about these specific passages of these four books written by early Christians. Once we understand what they are saying on their own terms, then we can figure out how they fit into the dialogue that exists between them and other books of scripture, modern prophetic teachings, and other cultural ideas, but we ought to first understand them on their own terms, from the perspective of their intended audience, if possible. I like to remind them that the scriptures contains many voices, and that they are all part of a rich conversation, so just because Matthew or Luke seems to be saying something that doesn’t sit right with you, that’s okay, because Matthew and Luke aren’t the only voices.

    So if somebody says for example, that a particular reading can’t be right because it “seems anti-capitalist” or “pro-socialist” I’d (1) remind them that there was no such thing as capitalism in the new testament, so it’s anachronistic and presentist to impose those ideas on the text, (2) tell them that at the end we can discuss how the message of these verses might apply to political discussions, but that first we’re going to try to understand what they say on their own terms, and (3) ask them what they can point to in the text to support their interpretation.

    I’d may also point out to the class that Jesus’s whole thing is making you uncomfortable, so don’t worry if you feel uncomfortable about what he has to say. And in fact, if Jesus is not making you uncomfortable, perhaps you ought to reconsider your interpretation of what he has to say. We don’t need a God that only confirms our own ideas, we need a God that challenges us.

  8. Thank you, Ardis, and kevinf.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    a really helpful treatment of the material, thanks.

    Here’s some enrichment material on the whole camel thing. (And Sidebottom will note that at that time I was also unaware of just how old the silly gate business was.)

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2006/04/07/a-camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle/

  10. Thanks for that, Kevin!

  11. I really appreciate this treatment, and your technique for focusing on what the scriptures say (in comment). And the line about “Jesus’ whole thing is making you uncomfortable.” (And remember that Matthew 5-6-7 does the same, if you take it seriously and/or as discussed at BCC earlier this year.) I would enjoy this class. Maybe even participate!

    I hear that a lot of the Sunday School world expects this class to be all about the Proclamation on the Family. I hope they’re wrong.

  12. jaxjensen says:

    “have you ever gotten pushback over teaching what Christ is clearly laying out about wealth and materialism? Why is this lesson so hard?”

    This past week our EQ lesson was on GC talk about Casual v Careful. The instructor asked, “Why do you think people are casual about the Gospel?” And I wanted to laugh and say out loud, “Because to not be casual, to take it seriously, would mean a complete and total change to our culture and comfortable way of life. Every single Mormon I’ve ever met has been casual about their covenants as soon as “Zion-building” is brought up, and almost everyone of them refuses to take seriously the charges to sell our stuff, give to the begger, etc. To not be casual would be totally alien to us as a people.”

    But of course I sat on my hands and said nothing because absolutely every time I make any such comment the next several comments are always justification for being casual about certain gospel aspects.

  13. Thanks, christian. Thr family proclamation doesn’t really have anything to do with the divorce question Jesus addresses in this passage other than that they both generally relate to the idea of marriage. The proclamation certainly doesn’t shed any light on this passage.

  14. jax, I’m a little more optimistic than you about church members. I’ve known several that I believe do take their covenants seriously. But I sympathize with your frustration.

  15. Anna L. says:

    What a helpful and thoughtful post! Thanks so much.

  16. jaxjensen says:

    Jared… I can’t name even 1 who avoids all lightmindedness… or all loud laughter… and can think of only 2 that I’ve met who truly believed in building Zion and were willing to actually give it a try (rather than the “we’re not ready” line). Everyone else I know (including me) is full of justifications on why it is okay for them to not take those particular sentences seriously… we’re casual about them, and that casualness soaks into other areas as well.

  17. Thanks, Anna.

  18. I get it, Jax, and I appreciate you calling that out. I don’t believe anyone actually fully lives up to those covenants, but I do know several people that I believe do take them seriously and try to live up to them.

  19. Jared Cook- Your ability to separate the law of God and the law of the land concerning divorce is well said. Thank you.

  20. Jared Livesey says:

    When a man truly believes a task is impossible, will he even start trying to accomplish it?

  21. Had a Facebook memory come up today, from the Sunday a couple of years ago when I taught the King Benjamin lesson in Gospel Doctrine, that seems relevant here. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt that a lesson absolutely failed, and for some of the problems OftenPerplexed reports — class members insisted on reciting and discussing and promoting all the reasons why we don’t really have to take care of each other, and why the Lord didn’t really mean what he or his prophet taught.

    After that experience, were I teaching a lesson again that might trigger this response, I think I wouldn’t lead off a ticklish part of the lesson with an immediate reading of scripture. I might instead begin with a short general discussion of why some teachings seem easier to accept than others, and I would ask for specific examples of teachings we might balk at, and what excuses we use to weasel out of the discomfort. If I needed to prime the discussion, I’d use examples not directly related to the ticklish lesson material — perhaps the teaching to share the gospel, something everybody acknowledges as good but that we really don’t enjoy doing and can always find excuses not to do. Then — maybe — when we got to the ticklish lesson material, maybe maybe maybe class members would be too embarrassed (or better, newly enlightened) to use the same excuses we’ve all just acknowledged did not excuse us at all, and we could then actually discuss the text and its implications.

  22. Those are really good thoughts, Ardis.

  23. Carolyn says:

    Jared — this is a sincere compliment. Your analysis of the divorce passage is the second best I’ve ever read/heard. A particularly energetic and well-learned Catholic priest homily on the passage is the best. It’s the only time I’ve ever not minded the homily being, like, 30 minutes long. He went into exceptional detail about the cultural context and how once you parse it all out correctly, what Jesus ultimately was saying is: “Dudes. If you divorce your wife to get richer, or you divorce your wife because you’re bored of her, or you divorce your wife to pursue some hot new young thing or have way more lustful sex, and as a result you leave her penniless and destitute because you have all the power and she has none, you’re a jerk.”

  24. Thanks, Carolyn! That homily sounds really great.

  25. I almost agree with Ardis. For me it is the best written piece on marriage/divorce I have read. Can’t thank you enough Jared. Grateful for your ability to write clearly on a subject within a limited amount of space.

  26. I thought a lot of the rich young ruler in response to the NYT opinion piece: The Strange Persistence of Guilt, which was a lament over society’s secularization and lack of a communal religion (i.e., Christianity) to teach us right from wrong. According to the David Brooks, society’s modern values prize and encourage victimhood; that we can never do enough for the poor, or the environment, or social justice gives us a guilt we can only numb ourselves to by wallowing in our own victimhood. He defines traditional/religious morality as between God and self, or between good and evil, whereas modern morality is supposedly victim-centric (or, as I see it, other-centric).

    But it was the Founder of Christianity Himself who asked the rich young ruler to sell EVERYTHING to help the poor, who said that our relationship with others IS our relationship with God (“inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”), and who said, “Pure religion and undefiled…is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” — not just “to keep himself unspotted from the world.” To me, the attitude in Brooks’ piece oozes Pharisaical preoccupation with the latter while ignoring the former. It says something that “victim” has become a sneer rather than a person to “visit in their affliction.”

    Ardis, such a clever idea!

    If we agree on the interpretation, what is the application? Are we doing it wrong if we’re not homeless?

  27. Angela C says:

    The only parable I’d like to add a little bit to your excellent thoughts is the one regarding the day laborers. “The wages given to the 11th, 9th, 6th, and 3rd hour laborers are a reward for their willingness to work, not a wage earned by the hours they worked.” Yes, and the other aspect that this parable ably points out is that the workers agreed upon their wages up front. They ONLY become upset when they see that those who worked fewer hours were paid the same wage they were. That makes this also a caution about comparing our lot and our rewards with what others receive. It’s anti-prosperity gospel, sure, but it’s also a dig at expecting extras you didn’t negotiate up front. Extra wages were never on the table.

    I’m dismayed by the complete ham-fisted departure from these valuable parables that the lesson material exhibits. It’s not proof-texting. It’s inserting things that aren’t there or related at all to the topic.

  28. Thank you, Amy!

    Laurel, thanks for your comment. I haven’t read the Brooks piece, but I’m not very sympathetic towards attempts to make sin something that’s just between individuals and God. It is that, but scripturally that’s an incomplete picture, for the reasons you describe.

    One other thing, I don’t want to make you feel bad, but I’ve been corrected for using “Pharisaical” as a pejorative because it really is an anti-Semitic term. I don’t believe you had any anti-Semitic intent, but it’s better, imo, to just be more precise about what we mean. Is it hypocrisy? Is it a preoccupation with rules? Every religion has these things, but for some reason Christians, Latter-day Saints included, seem have a habit of taking only this historical sect of Judaism and making it the byword of these things.

    “Are we doing it wrong if we’re not homeless?” I think this is a question we have to take very seriously. Thanks for asking it.

    Great point, Angela. Other people getting blessed/rewarded/recognized doesn’t mean you not getting blessed/rewarded/recognized. I remember thinking of this parable and especially the line “friend, I do thee no wrong” when people were all upset about black lives matter–as if saying that black lives matter was somehow a suggestion that other lives didn’t.

  29. Jared, I tend not to worry about sounding anti-Semitic because I’m ethnically Jewish. But that is good to know.

  30. Jared Livesey says:

    @Laurel –

    You ask: “Are we doing it wrong if we’re not homeless?”

    If “it” is “keeping the Lord’s commandments,” we have but to contrast our own individual behavior with the Lord’s instructions in the Sermon (Luke 6:20-49, Matthew 5-7, 3 Nephi 12-14) to be able to self-diagnose and, if need be, self-correct. Christ is our exemplar for doing “it” right, of course. Can we follow him by both teaching and doing what he said to do and expect to fare better than he did?

  31. launeslow says:

    What a rich discussion! The original post as well as all the comments! Thank you all!

  32. You really out do yourself. Keep these posts coming. I read them after I’ve read the weeks readings, and the lesson manual in hopes of catching onto something that’ll be posted on BCC; and I always fall short. These posts usually bliw away any insights I have. I feel very enriched reading them.

  33. Thanks, launeslow and Jader3rd. I’m glad these posts do some good.

  34. Jared:
    I have read your post a number of times. I find it moving, and helpful, and profoundly troubling. I might have a hard time putting into words just how/why I find it troubling. In the most simple terms I would say that I find it troubling because of what one of the commenters above called the “checklist” gospel. You very convincingly make this statement: ” … righteousness does not come from obeying the commandments, it comes from a fundamental change of heart and a total commitment of discipleship.”

    Why is this troubling? Because it becomes unclear to me why we try to “keep the commandments.” What is the point? I was once talking to my wife as we prepared to see our bishop for our temple recommend interviews. She was dreading the interview. I know, like few could know, that she is an exemplary person and (unless she has astonishing habits that she has kept secret from me for over 30 years) that she is what we would call “temple-worthy.

    “Because,” she said, “I don’t think that the temple questions are anything like what God would ask me if I had to review my life with him.”

  35. sch, that’s a great question and it’s the same one that Paul asks: if grace, not obedience, saves us, then does that mean we ought to just abandon obedience? “God forbid.” No.

    So if we’re still supposed to keep the commandments, why? If it’s not to earn salvation, or to achieve righteousness, why do we do it? There are a few different reasons. Paul says that the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Following the ten commandments, for example, can help us to learn what kind of person it is that we should be if we are converted, and I think that’s why Jesus’s first answer to the rich young man is to keep the commandments. That’s one reason.

    Another reason is that our obedience is an expression of love and gratitude to God. If you love me, keep my commandments, says Jesus. Elder Uchtdorf gets at this in a couple of his conference talks on this. The difference is that instead of thinking we can buy righteousness with our own works, we are doing good and obeying because we love God, we are trusting in him, not on our own obedience, for our salvation.

    Another possible answer comes from Joseph Smith: a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things will never have the power to generate faith unto salvation: by trying to keep the commandments, if we are honest, we are forced to confront our constant failure to do so, which forces us to confront the fact that we must rely on the grace of Jesus to overcome that failure. The commandments reveal to us our inability to keep them and the need to exercise faith in Christ. This could also be seen as another version of Paul’s statement that the law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.

    I don’t have a problem with the temple recommend interview, but I agree with your wife that the questions we need to be asking ourselves about our own lives are not the same questions as the temple recommend interview. The temple recommend is about whether we meet certain standards that have been established for the temple. Sacrificing and exercising faith to meet those standards is, I think, a good thing, that can help build and strengthen faith, but ultimately, they only measure certain outward things. Complying with those outward things is no guarantee that you’ve experienced true conversion, and not complying with them is not a reliable indicator that you’re not truly converted either, in my opinion.

  36. I really do believe that those who work harder here get the better reward in the next life. Those who spent their efforts lifting the poor here will live in a society where there are no poor, in other words Zion. Those who were casual about it or tried to Pharisee like rewrite Jesus’s words so as to ignore justice and mercy will get to live in a rigid rule based society, probably the Terrestial Kingdom. So we do reap what we sow, just perhaps not in the way we expect.
    I remember reading a question asked by a 19th century Christian. Do you think our servants will eat at the same table as us in the next life because they do not do it here? The true answer is of course not. As servants, they will eat at Jesus’s table, for He was servant to all. The masters here will not have a place there for they did not serve.
    I have an older single friend, a well educated woman who places too much emphasis on her college degrees. Every time she mentions finding someone in the Spirit World to be sealed to, she is sure to bring up that she would not belong with someone who died as a child in China or Africa, because obviously they did not enjoy the same culture she did. I wonder how blind she could be, as if a college degree here could possibly compare to righteousness in the pre-morral world sufficient to guarantee you a place in the Celestial world. And a second estate lived teaching the gospel in the Spirit world is seen by her as inferior to birth in an affluent Western family.

  37. Ryan Mullen says:

    sch, we were mulling over that same question in our family scripture study today. In addition to Jared’s thought-provoking answers, I appreciate the commandments simply as our religious community’s recommendations for living a life in harmony with each other. I really don’t think God cares if we live specific behaviors just for the behavior’s sake, but God cares a great deal whether we harm or serve our neighbors.

  38. Jared: thank you for your response. It is helpful

  39. Sanford says:

    Speaking of divorce under the law of Moses. This American Life did a story on the ramification of male controlled divorce in an ultra orthodox Jewish community. It’s fascinating.

    https://www.thisamericanlife.org/516/stuck-in-the-middle

  40. There is a phrase used in mathematics “necessary and sufficient” or ” necessary but insufficient”. Finding the correct rules and following them is necessary but insufficient to obtain salvation. The scriptures compare our relationship with Christ to a marriage. In marriage, each must be participating. Our obedience coupled with Christ’s grace are the necessary and sufficient means to the end we seek. Neither stands alone. Focusing too much attention on either unbalanced the relationship.

  41. Ryan Mullen, I once heard a man justify having sexual relations with a woman he sat next to on a plane as not wanting to hurt her feelings since she expected this of him. When his wife protested to him, ‘What about my feelings?’, he was sincerely puzzled. His highest value was not hurting the feeling of the person he was with at the time. I realize this example seems absurd, but it is true and I believe why God does care about our strict obedience to certain rules. They protect us and those around us. Too often our judgement is clouded by the feelings of others. Hurting them is sometimes inevitable if we are to be true to God.

  42. Deidre, yes necessary but not sufficient is a decent way of putting it, though I might quibble with it to the extent that it suggests that our obedience actually contributes in any way to earning us blessings or salvation. It’s something we have a duty to do, but it’s not something that actually makes us worthy. Only repentance and faith does that. Of course, trying to be obedient is part of repentance.

    The marriage analogy is fine as far as it goes, but it’s only an analogy to explain one aspect, and I think it’s incorrect to think that our obedience, which is always necessary, is in any real way balanced with grace.

  43. Re the Rich Young Man
    Today, listening to the Sunday School class wrestle with money (“trusting in riches”, “arm of flesh”, “love of money” coming up), I had a new-to-me thought. My attention was drawn to Mark 10:21 “Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him . . .” and to Mark 10:24 “And the disciples were astonished at his words.” And I asked myself what’s going on, when Jesus looks closely and loved him? And when the disciples, who HAD taken up the cross and followed Jesus, were astonished?

    The rhetorical questions drew me into the story, and as I pictured myself first in the shoes of the disciples, and then in the shoes of the ruler with lots of possessions, a picture emerged of Jesus beholding me, knowing me, looking into my heart, and asking of me the hardest thing—whatever that might be today—the hardest thing for me. The thing I can’t do. The impossibility.

    And then saying (as in Mark 10:27): “With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.”