How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 8: The Sermon on the Mount: “A More Excellent Way”
This year’s lesson has as its purpose statement “To encourage class members to come unto Christ by applying the principles he taught in the Sermon on the Mount” and seeks to achieve its purpose by selecting random verses from Matthew 5 (i.e., only the first part of the Sermon on the Mount) and asks repetitiously, “And so how can we apply this principle in our lives?” The lessons reproduced below from the 1947 Gospel Messages Sunday School Course (Carl F. Eyring, Good Tidings to All People. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1946) discuss various parts of the Sermon on the Mount in somewhat greater depth and may assist teachers in constructing better questions than those in the current manual (although the references to Hitler are strange and off-putting).
Teachable in Things of the Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:3, 4.)
Jesus was now ready for His ministry. He had been baptized by John. In personal contact with the forces of evil, He had decisively rejected the possibility of misusing His power. the men and women of His native land, or the peoples of any land, were not to be saved by force or by the laurels won by their fathers; they must achieve their own personal growth. he must win their confidence; they must develop faith in Him. He would follow the slow but sure way of the Master Teacher. He would be an invited guest in the citadel of men’s souls; He would not go over the wall by force as a thief and a robber.
“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain; and when he was set, his disciples came unto him; And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:1-4.)
The Poor in Spirit. Is this new Teacher the champion of the poor? Does He promise that poverty on earth means riches in heaven? Certainly He comforts those who sorrow and are heavy laden! And so the multitude of fishermen and peasant farmers, with a sprinkling of officers of the land and of the church, listened to the greatest of all sermons, The Sermon on the Mount. All understood in part, but none fully understood – this was the way with the Master Teacher.
In our times, we think that Jesus was not really speaking of a poverty of worldly or spiritual riches, but of an attitude of mind. Certainly this attitude of mind is at the opposite pole from the self-satisfied feeling that both physical and spiritual riches too often bring. It is surely a feeling of need, an attitude of teachableness, and the trusting that comes with faith. this beatitude, then, might be modified to read, “Blessed are the teachable.” But the restatement should not end here. Both the wicked to be wicked and the righteous to be righteous must be teachable, be willing to learn, to have faith in their cause. But to the Nephites, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Obviously a further and final modification is needed. We suggest as a modern interpretation and rendition: “Blessed are the teachable in things of the spirit.”
Alma, in his dissertation on faith, gives the steps – desire to believe, belief, faith, and a perfect knowledge – by which a person obtains perfect knowledge of the elements of art, science, religion, or any of the elements of life itself. The first step is shaking off the shackles of ignorance is the desire to know. Thus, the unbelief which attends ignorance gives way to a desire to believe.
Jesus recognizes this step from a self-satisfied attitude to one of teachableness as the first and most difficult in the achievement of His proposed way of life. he speaks of this new-born attitude as a rebirth. To Nicodemus He said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He designates the spirit of the little child as the true symbol of teachableness. “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as the little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Too many persons, especially older persons, live in the mist of self-sufficiency. In a game of fantasy, each carries a banner with the slogan, “There is nothing the matter with me, rah! rah!” This orgy of self-deception is so intriguing that the truth bearer, the prophet, or the teacher has difficulty being noticed. But the Master Teacher demonstrates the art of arousing interest.
The Master’s Way of Arousing and Holding Interest. Jesus als0p shows interest Himself – a first requirement in arousing interest in others. He stimulates thinking and maintains suspense, as illustrated in His discourse with Nicodemus. He connects His teachings with interesting events an persons, with applications to problems of living, and with His listeners’ hopes and aspirations. Here is an example: “and they brought young children to him, that he should teach them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” Interest was aroused and held. Undoubtedly the disciples became “poor in spirit” in this situation and must always have remembered the principle taught and the superb method of teaching it. (Mark 10:13-16).
Further Steps to Perfect Knowledge. Those who are truly poor in spirit and who because of th4eir attitude make the first step from unbelief to a desire to believe may be expected to climb up to perfect knowledge. After a desire to believe, comes belief, and following belief comes faith. Thus faith is one step above belief. Faith is based on a broader experience than belief and carries with it more trust, more positive power that leads to action. One may believe yet still lack faith. As experience broadens under the dynamic power of faith, perfect knowledge is acquired. alma says: “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know … that your understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and your mind doth begin to expand.” Observe that Alma says, “yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing,” making clear that knowledge is gained not as one complete whole but in bits – here a little and there a little – but always by the same method, through the instrumentality of faith by those whoa re truly poor in spirit.
Blessed are They That Mourn. The reaching up for Jesus’ way of life by the poor in spirit involves, not only the driving force of faith, but the creative action of repentance. In the process, inadequate and outworn ideals have been left behind, but new ideals have been forged out of new and more perfect elements of knowledge. This kind of change, which is true repentance, always brings remorse. The new life, born of teachableness, permits new creations, but it also induces a vivid realization that the previous attitude of unteachableness has kept out the light which might have shown in the darkness. thus there is a mixture of sorrow and happiness. But they that mourn thus are comforted in the realization that at long last they have discovered the way of life exemplified by Jesus.
Remorse is not always the symbol of repentance. We feel remorse when the evil consequences of our acts fall upon our heads. Such emotions may be confused with true repentance. If a person stops with remorse, he is not truly repentant. For example, a person may show grief when caught in the act of stealing. This sorrow may be the emotional expression of the regret of being caught or it may be an expression of remorse over his own discovery that he is the kind of person who would steal. It can hardly be said that repentance even begins with the regret of being caught, and certainly it must go further than the remorse resulting from the vivid discovery of being a person who would steal. One must bring forth a new life characterized by honest conduct. Then the old, inadequate, and outworn life, reviewed in retrospect from the vantage point of the new life, will bring sorrow. But persons that mourn under such circumstances will surely be comforted when they compare the old life with the new. Of such persons Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” And this second beatitude naturally follows the first, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” because only those who are poor in spirit can know the meaning of true repentance, and feel the remorse and comfort it begins.
The Habit of Being Poor in Spirit
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:5-6.)
How can the biological world of tooth and claw, where might makes right in the struggle for survival, be inherited by the meek? How can the business world of competition, where audacity is rewarded, and boldness is admired, be inherited by the meek? Heaven might be inherited by the meek, but surely not the earth! could it be that meekness, as used by Jesus, means much more than gentleness and mildness of temper, patience under injuries, long-suffering under adversity? In the so-called practical world, meekness, thought of as gentleness, mildness, and patience, comes to mean weakness. Certainly Jesus did not use meekness in this unfavorable sense.
Meekness, the Habit of Being Teachable. Surely the order which Jesus gave to the beatitudes is not accidental. In Chapter 4, the logical sequence of the first two beatitudes has been pointed out. Why should not the third and the fourth fall naturally into the pattern of the whole?
It is easy to find persons who are teachable in certain situations in life but who have not successfully extended this attitude to the whole of life. For example, the business man may be teachable in the matter of buying at a bargain and selling at a profit, but in his moral life he may feel self-sufficient. Or again, a religious man may be teachable in points of theological doctrine, but self-sufficient in his political affiliations.
As another, but more detailed, example consider the following: the story is told of a farmer who, on one dark night, drove his empty wagon to the railroad station intent upon stealing coal from the “big, greedy company.” As the headgate to the coal bin was raised, the coal rushed out in such force and quantity as to break down the wagon. Daylight came, and the man was discovered in his dishonest act. Apprehended by an officer of the law he was taken to a restaurant on his way to jail. At the early morning hour only coffee and doughnuts were being served. Much to the astonishment of the officer, the prisoner remarked, “No coffee, please.” Here was a man who should be honored for his teachableness in the health phase of his life. But, unfortunately, he had failed to be poor in spirit in the matter of property rights. If only he had been teachable in the whole of his life, he would not have justified himself in the premise that if a certain big company is reported to use shady business methods, then he has the right to steal from corporations.
These examples illustrate the point that being poor in spirit once does not make one poor in spirit always; developing a poor in spirit attitude in one area of life’s activities does not develop a poor in spirit attitude in all other areas. thus it would appear that a word is needed to describe a person who makes it a habit to be teachable, as nearly as possible, in the whole of life. Undoubtedly Jesus used the word “meek” to describe such a person. If so, then the third beatitude follows the first and second in logical sequence. The point of view will be taken that meekness is the habit of being teachable, of striving sincerely to be poor in spirit in the whole of life.
The Formation of Habits. Professor William James, the great American psychologist, says, “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. … Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out. … But let no youth have any anxiety of the upshot of his education, whatever the line of it may be. If he keep faithfully busy each hour of the working day, he may safely leave the final result to itself. he can with perfect certainty count on waking up some fine morning, to find himself one of the competent ones of his generation, in whatever pursuit he has singled out.” [William James, The Principles of Psychology (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1890), Vol. I, page 127.]
Youth should continue the attitude of teachableness which was so natural in childhood. The habit of trying to be poor in spirit in every phase of life is worth forming. Such a habit is needed to insure new growth and is needed even more to keep the old growth alive.
Those who care to form the habit of being poor in spirit, or for that matter any other habit, should remember these maxims.
1. Make up your mind with all the vigor of your soul that you will form the habit – the habit of being poor in spirit, for example. This must not be a half-hearted start; it must begin with a strong and decisive assertion of the will.
2. Make an emphatic start by meeting some immediate and pressing problem with a teachable attitude.
3. Never permit ‘an exception to occur”; that is, meet every new problem with the teachable attitude, not just those problems which seem easy and desirable to solve.
4. Seize every opportunity to fulfil the resolve to be teachable, not only in a narrow, special phase of life, but in the whole of life. It takes this resolve and frequent practice to develop the true spirit of meekness.
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. The farmer who will. not modify his farming methods to meet the inroads of a new pest or a changing world market is not meek – his children will probably not inherit his land; it will be lost because of crop failures. But the farmer who has formed the habit of teachableness will seek information from the county agent, from research laboratories, and from government publications, and will plan and execute a new farming technique. He will seek help from all reliable sources on the probable market for certain crops and plan his planting accordingly. Finally, having been taught by practical experience, he will not risk his whole income on a single specialized crop. The children of such a farmer are sure to inherit the land.
When the United States entered World War II, she was poorly prepared. The people soon lost their arrogance and became teachable in warfare if not truly poor in spirit. Scientists, who are usually teachable in the field of their specialty, began searching for new ways of saving the lives of our men and of destroying the enemy. Through teachableness, hard work, and the cooperation of all agencies, the battle of the Atlantic was won. But Hitler nearly won that battle. He succeeded as well as he did by being teachable in the matter of underwater warfare. Had Hitler been teachable in the things of the spirit, World War II need never have been fought.
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness. Thus, we may conclude that progress, whether in wickedness or righteousness, requires the habit of teachableness in at least some limited field.
But meekness is more than the habit of being teachable in limited compartments; it is the habit of being teachable in all things of the spirit, the habit of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Hitler developed habits of teachableness in limited fields, but never true meekness, and certainly never a hunger and a thirst for righteousness. thus the fourth beatitude gives strength and direction to the three before it. Together they describe the attitude of mind needed for personal growth from unbelief and ignorance to faith and knowledge. But the fourth beatitude, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled with the Holy ghost,” definitely specifies that the growth should be made in righteousness.
Thus, the meek will always inherit the fruits of righteousness, even though at times they may not inherit earthly possessions. Surely they will inherit the earth and possess it after it is celestialized.
Open-Mindedness. Often the habit of being teachable is called open-mindedness. too often the word is used to mean the acceptance of all ideas which may present themselves. but meekness, the habit of being poor in spirit, and the hunger and thirst for righteousness do not mean the acceptance of all that knocks at the door of consciousness. there must be careful discrimination. such selection is possible only if criteria are set up for judging that which ought to be included as the mind is opened for new facts, new thoughts, new ideals, and new aspirations. The needed criteria are to be found in the teachings of Jesus.
An Achievement in Spiritual Growth
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:7-9.)
In the first four beatitudes Jesus taught the importance of proper attitude. In dealing with people, He looked for attitude more than for attainment. He recognized that the proper attitude would usually bring the desired attainment. But many of the people of His age classified men as righteous if they had strictly observed rules – they overlooked attitude; attainment was their only test of righteousness. Often Jesus found the attitude of the sinner more wholesome than that of the Pharisee: the first might be teachable, the second proud and self-satisfied. (See Luke 7:36-50; John 8;1-11.)
The central thought of the first four beatitudes is the attitude of humility toward oneself and the spirit of hungering for righteousness. these two attitudes, teachableness and a hunger for righteousness, powerfully urge men to righteous attainment, to the attempted fulfilment of the admonition, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Jesus sensed the possibility that one might center life in self-perfection. To guard against this false interpretation of the first four beatitudes, he moved quickly into beatitudes which have to do with man’s relation to his fellows.
The Merciful. As one achieves in self-perfection, it would be easy to forget many details of the struggle, to forget that others less fortunate might need in their struggle a kind and compassionate consideration. it would be easy to lose the attitude of teachableness, and the hunger and thirst for righteousness, as one basks in the sunlight of personal accomplishment. The attitude needed for continuous growth might disappear; self-satisfaction might take its place; and the one who, because of this attitude, fails to extend mercy might really be the one who needs it most. thus the need of receiving mercy, by the righteous as well as by the unrighteous, never disappears. The best insurance against failing to receive needed mercy is the cultivation of the attitudes which permit one always to extend mercy freely to others. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Mercy, as commonly understood, is the kind and compassionate treatment of the suffering, the unfortunate, or the condemned, and the willingness to forgive and to spare pain or trouble. Such ability implies certain powers. The kings of yesteryear gained their ability to be merciful through their usurped power over life and death. the common man does not have real or usurped power which permits him to relieve pain or free the condemned; yet he can be merciful; he can extend mercy by being tolerant with his fellow’s ideas, by being slow to condemn his fellow’s actions. This, the weakest and humblest of all can do – it does not require the power of great righteousness, which extends mercy through love or the usurped power of great wickedness, which extends mercy by lessening cruelty, to perform simple acts of mercy.
All can extend mercy through love by searching, not for the sin and shame of the publican and the harlot, but for indications, however hidden and difficult to find, of repentance and the willingness to be born again into the newness of life. Fully sensing that the direction a man faces means more than where he is standing, all can be merciful if effort is used to orient the facing, not to point out the low position of the standing. All can extend mercy by lessening cruelty, the cruelty which comes through ignoring the ideas, points of view, and aspirations of others. Overlooking or disregarding another is truly an act of cruelty. the act is cruel because such treatment may cause a sensitive self to go through the tortures of the damned under the lashing of self-pity or the torments of a sense of inferiority.
Finally, the turning of the perfected self to acts of mercy brings not only succor to those in need, but an orientation to the self-perfecting process which could never be obtained in isolation. Mercy, therefore, is a homeopathic medicine of the soul: extending mercy brings mercy – “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
Pure in Heart. Some may think that purity of heart may be obtained in social isolation, that this beatitude should be included with the first four rather than with those which have to do with man’s relations to his fellows. Much growth can be made in purifying the heart through communion with God, but social contacts seem absolutely necessary as the proving grounds for the true purification of the heart. For example, if purity of heart were given the limited meaning of freedom from impure thoughts, still social relationships would be definitely involved – thoughts of unchastity, envy, and anger usually involve relationships with others.
Even if purity means singleness of mind with complete surrender to God’s will, still social contacts must be used as the proving grounds. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” King Benjamin (Book of Mormon) advises, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” this means that as one achieves ability to see and understand the divine in God’s creations, especially in His children, and serve and respect all as one serves and respects God, then truly one becomes eligible to see Him face to face. “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
Peacemakers. Permanent peace must first be born and nourished as a way of life in the souls of individuals. peacemakers, then, must be teachers – teachers who have developed the habit of being teachable themselves and of hungering for righteousness, who have tested their attitudes and achievements on the proving grounds of human relations, and have developed a spirit of mercy and a purity of heart. Only such persons can be free from provincialism, race prejudices, and selfish, nationalistic motives. the qualifications of the peacemaker are very high, so high, in fact, that we still struggle for an enduring peace. Even so, all should try to be peacemakers. “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.”
The Final Test. An achievement in spiritual growth receives its final test under the jeers of friends and the threats of enemies. If the new way of life, achieved after the formula of the beatitudes, can stand the ease of prosperity and the onslaught of persecution, then a new disciple has been tested for the master’s kingdom.
Responsibility Comes with Spiritual Growth
“Ye are the salt of the earth: … Ye are the light of the world.” (Matt. 5:13, 14.)
The beatitudes are found to follow in logical sequence and together to form a plan of action for the achievement of the good life. They do not include the whole of Christian life, but certainly they are its heart, giving life and vitality to the disciple’s soul. the good life is always in process; never is the adventure finished. However, the fact that the quest is enduring need not deter the disciple from accepting the responsibility of putting into use a partly perfected self. One is not to be a perfectionist, always postponing the chance to serve until the service may be perfectly performed.
Plan of Action. In summary the beatitudes may be put into a plan of action. The poetic lines are recast in modernized prosaic statements. In any development one must be open-minded and teachable, that is, poor in spirit. With this attitude of mind, one realizes that much of that which is beautiful, good, and true has been overlooked owing to a previous lack of teachableness. Sorrow and remorse, the first fruits of repentance, at once follow. But an intelligent effort to rid oneself of wrongdoing, in the main the result of inexperience and ignorance, leads to meekness, and this humility opens the door to greater righteousness for which there is now a hunger and a thirst. The creative aspects of repentance and faith are now in action.
such a process, repeated many times, puts a person in a position properly to evaluate the struggles of others, and this brings an attitude of mercy. Slowly but surely meekness and mercy bring a purity of heart, and a fuller and nobler conception of God. Such persons will be prepared to be peacemakers, and, if successful, surely they will be called the children of God. The final and real test of a successful accomplishment comes in adversity, when strength is manifest in standing for the right in the midst of persecution.
Salt of the Earth. The plan of action, just described, often proceeds with undiminished fervor from childhood to old age. A person with such a performance can truly be spoken of as the salt of the earth, a light set upon a hill. Sometimes the plan of action is accepted during childhood and youth, only to be cast aside at maturity. The salt of the earth has lost its savor. There is sorrow on earth and in heaven for, “if the salt has lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?”
The salt may lose its savor in various ways. An act of wrongdoing, the result of inexperience, ignorance, lack of self-control, or social pressures, may be the means of disturbing or slowing down the process of building the good life. The process has within itself the potential power, through repentance, to eliminate the deterrents. But at the critical stage, repentance may not have been evoked, either because of ignorance or neglect or because the act of some misunderstanding person generated resentment instead of repentance. A few such unfortunate experiences may have caused the salt to begin to lose its savor.
Probably a more serious deterrent in the process of achieving the good life is that of self-righteousness, a slowing down process caused by the worship of past accomplishments. the light which might shine in the darkness is placed under a bushel. John the Baptist railed against such persons. Jesus recognized that such contentedness might be more difficult to correct than a so-called sin. For example, a Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him. While they were eating, a woman of ill repute came in from the street and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed him with ointment. (Luke 7:36-50.) The Pharisee saw the woman only as a sinner; he judged her by her past life, not by her present attitude. Jesus saw the woman, not as a harlot, but as a human soul stirred by repentance. He said to the woman, “Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.”
But when the Pharisee could see the woman only as a sinner, Jesus found that a self-righteous man needed to be taught. “And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee …, I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss y feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”
Responsibility Comes with Spiritual Growth. Spiritual growth brings the responsibility of being helpful. This helpfulness is not to be a burden. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your soul. for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Yes, spiritual growth leads to an easy yoke and a light burden, but not away from responsibility. “ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” Over and over again, Jesus explains that spiritual growth is made, not simply for the perfection of the self, but in order that the perfected self might be given in helpfulness to others. This service brings joy and the yoke seems easy and the burden light.
Spiritual growth brings the responsibility of keeping oneself and the community alive to spiritual needs. It is not enough to light up a house when a community can be illuminated, not enough to make a community “shine” when a country can be enlightened. It is not enough to be a member of a Sunday School class when invited to be a Sunday School teacher; not enough to be a lay member of a ward when invited to be a bishop; not enough to be a father of sons when invited to be a Scoutmaster; not enough to take interest in beautifying the home when invited to serve on a city planning board; not enough to support the schools with taxes when asked to serve on a school board.
The expansion of one’s influence is not to be used for personal advantage. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)
Integration, the Whole Person
“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: … And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, cast it from thee: …” (Matt 5:29,30.)
According to some thinkers, especially the philosopher Nietzsche, Jesus reversed the values of life. Are not strength, mastery, and success the goals of life? Should one not seek possessions, should one not strive to be self-sufficient? In the study of the beatitudes we do find Jesus giving a new orientation to the values of life. He honors, not the one with possessions, not the one who worships accomplishments, not the one contented under the lure of self-sufficiency; He prefers the one who has not, the one dissatisfied, and especially the one that hungers for greater righteousness. He offers, in the beatitudes, the plan of action leading to the good life. Humility and desire, repentance and faith, not arrogance and self-sufficiency, He gives as the attitudes which urge men to the good life. The plan of action is blueprinted; the driving forces are specified. Jesus asks, “Are you ready to erect the mansion of the good life?”
The Call. Jesus summons us, as He did His disciples, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Simon Peter and Andrew forsook their nets and followed Him. The kind, merciful, and patient Master Teacher was exacting in His demands of allegiance. Half-hearted response would not do. Nets must be forsaken, the new life entered with a singleness of purpose.
A certain man said to Jesus, “Lord, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62.)
The Response to the Call. The decision to follow Jesus must be definite, and final: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt. 6:24.)
The plans and specifications for the building of the good life are exacting: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is thew ay, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7;14.) Jesus called for whole-hearted choice, a burning testimony. The Master Teacher understood that if there were to be a rebirth, a new habit formed, then one should follow the maxim: Make up your mind with all the vigor of your soul that you will form the habit.
The Whole Person. Once set decisively on the “strait and narrow way,” what is the program? It is the program of integration, the job of building the whole person. This program must likewise be accepted wholeheartedly. The decision to make the good life whole must be absolute. “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
Thus Jesus would have us become persons of courage and decision – courageous enough to see our faults and decisive enough to do something about eliminating them. he would have us recognize that a little fault might grow until it corrupts the whole life, that a mild indulgence, seemingly harmless, might ultimately spoil the good life. It were better that the life should be made more drab by the surgical elimination of a mild indulgence, than that the good life should be lost. Jesus would warn against the careless attitude, “There is plenty of time to be goody-good; while I am young I propose to have a fling – no real sin, of course, but a taste of the good things of the world.” this attitude is certainly careless and it might be ruinous. The “walking bundles of habits,” to which Professor James speaks (Chapter 5), are not wiped out by a wave of the hand; strictly speaking, nothing that we do can ever be wiped out. The bad habits formed at public dance halls, wayside inns, and beer parlors will not be automatically wiped out when the decision is made to settle down and build a home. Jesus says, “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him”; or in other words recognize the danger of careless living, look the problem squarely in the face, come to a conclusion, and then take decisive action, even if the life of careless freedom must be cut out and cast away.
It must not be thought that the process of making the good life whole is a problem for youth only. Youth lives an adventurous life and rightly so. This means the possibility of many misuses of freedom, many chances that false structures will be built into the good life. There will be much building up and tearing down as the youth attempts to make the good life whole. But when the creative audacity of youth crystalizes into a fixed conservatism of age, the old man may be in a worse condition than the wayward youth and still not know it. Yet, the old man has achieved; he has served well his family, the church, and the community. but if the urge for a newness of life dims with age and is finally replaced by self-satisfaction, the old man has departed from the Master’s kingdom just at the time when he expected Jesus to say, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” The habit of being teachable in the things of the spirit must be everlasting, if one is to be rated always as a follower of Jesus. The old man’s accomplishments are as nothing when viewed from the vantage point of eternity; he has failed because he has lost the precious attitude that would have given him growth eternally.
The Process of Integration. Certainly the first step in the attempt to make the good life whole is to enter into the adventure wholeheartedly with courage and conviction. Every habit must be started this way.
The next move would be to find some phase of the good life that needs integration and then to start to work. For example, a person might discover that his attendance at priesthood meeting was unusually good, that he seldom remained for Sunday School, and only now and again attended sacrament meeting. “Why just the one meeting?” he would ask himself. “Why do I attend priesthood meeting so well? Just for the sake of duty? If I were to live beyond duty, would I not attend all meetings for their worth?” finally the person might come to the conclusion that to build the good life whole he should make complete use of the services of his ward. The area for integration has been found, and the next step would be to form the habit of attending all meetings.
If the process of integration is to become a habit, the person must seize every opportunity to discover false structures in the good life, tear them down, if necessary, and then rebuild whatever is of value into the whole of life. The ability to separate the good from the bad, the temporal from the eternal, must be cultivated.
Jesus said, “And now this I speak, a parable concerning your sins; wherefore, cast them from you, that you may not be hewn down and cast into the fire.”
Doing More Than is Expected
“And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” (Matt. 5:41.)
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. … And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile go with him twain.” (Matt. 5:38-41.) How difficult it is to rise to this level! With a tooth just knocked out, can I honestly play the nobler part: “Your act – causing me to lose a tooth – will not deter me from serving you. However you may feel toward me, I will not let your hate keep me from acting the part of love. Little accidents like this will not turn me away from my Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Can such an attitude survive in a practical world?
The Low Level of Reprisal. When human beings live by the law of th jungle, where might makes right, they live on the level of the physical. The strong suppress the weak in order to live. The weak perish at the hands of the strong, but the purpose is one of physical survival. As low as is this level of physical survival, men, and civilized men at that, resort to an even lower level. For example, when a nation, during war, burns a city of the enemy, the enemy does its best to return the act by burning two cities; when treaties are made, following a war, the loser is humiliated and dispossessed beyond the point of retribution. yes, reprisal is at a lower level than the law of the jungle.
On the Level of Retribution. On the level of reprisal, I say: “I take your life because you stole my cow.” Acting under the law of the jungle, I say, “I am stronger than you and, even though you have done me no harm, I must take your life in order that I might survive – it is the survival of the fittest.” but on the level of strict retribution, I say: “You have knocked out one of my teeth; I will knock out only one of yours, though I am tempted to knock out all you have. I live by the law, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’” In this manner we have stepped up to a level of crude justice.
The Higher Law. On all sides we are hedged in by the compelling power of necessity. We must walk carefully or we shall fall; we must eat or we shall die; we must meet the demands of our social life or we shall be ostracized; we must obey the law of the land or we shall be cast into prison; we must be courteous to our customers or we shall lose business; we must go to work on time or we shall be fired; we must do our duty or we shall not be saved! But the “must” does not cover the whole of life. There are still areas for the possibles. How shall we discover these free areas and thus find the freedom for self-expression which we so much desire? The answer is simple yet strange: If you are compelled to go one mile, be magnanimous and go two! Jesus is the greatest homeopathic physician of the soul. He would have you drive out the compulsion of going one mile by freely going the second. let us apply this principle to a number of the situations of life, and see if this strange medicine is in fact a true curative.
Living a Life. We may be compelled to live in poor circumstances – two rooms, uncarpeted floor, rough furniture, and unpapered walls. but so long as we have physical strength and a soul which reaches up for self-expression, these rooms may be kept orderly, clean, and full of simple beauty; the floors may be scrubbed till they are immaculate; the kitchen table may be made attractive with the orderly arrangement of tin dishes and the savoriness of well-cooked though cheap and simple food; the doorstep may be clean and inviting; and along the path may be planted a row of old fashioned flowers to give welcome to the stranger who needs to find rest. the first mile of forced poverty is made beautiful by the courage to find freedom in the territory of the second. Contrast this picture with that of the filth, confusion, and squalor to be found in homes where persons spend most of their time complaining about being poor. the first mile is drudgery because they have no vision of a second mile.
One’s Job. A certain young man had the job of cutting the lawns of a university. Pushing the lawn mower over large areas of grass became monotonous. Had he let the job drop to the level of mere grass mowing, his work would have become drudgery. But he caught the vision of the second mile. With a little more work than the least required, he could make his work a pleasure. Again we have the strange homeopathic medicine: A little extra work given to the boss freely lifts the whole work up from the level of drudgery. This was his program. The man who had worked before, and whose work was known to be satisfactory, had paid little attention to the edges of the lawn along walks and driveways, and around trees and shrubs. But time spent trimming these edges was found by the young man to be time happily spent – here was a chance for self-expression. So he divided up the campus into units and broke the monotony of continuous mowing by introducing the creative expression of shaping and trimming the edges. With this arrangement the mowing was carried on at a faster rate, and the whole job of mowing, trimming, and shaping was done in the same time as that required under the old plan. Two achievements came out of this program: greater happiness and a finer-looking campus. Compliments from the “boss” added to the pleasure. Commenting on this experience, this man, now much older and holding a responsible position, often remarks, “It is strange how a little extra work, not really required, can leaven the whole lump, making the whole mass enjoyable.”
One’s Duty. A member of a missionary committee knocks at our door. We invite him in, and he states his message. We ask, “About how much are others giving?” We are informed, “About one dollar.” Here is our chance! Shall we give one dollar and feel we have come “under the wire” in the hundred-yard-duty dash, or shall we give two dollars and have the joy of running the extra hundred yards under our own “steam,” without the compulsion of duty?
One’s Family. In terms of the law, marriage carries certain obligations. but love cannot flower unless life is lived in the heights found beyond the first mile of marital duties. A mother’s love reaches its beauty in the region far beyond the first mile of necessity. A husband’s love cannot blossom unless he catches the vis8ion of what might be in the land beyond the cold requirements of civil law.
Yes, the ideals of Jesus may be used by practical men in a practical world.