Lesson 17: “What Shall I Do that I May Inherit Eternal Life?”
Mark 10:17-30, 12:41-44
Luke 12:13-21, 14, 16
Purpose: To help class members understand that we must sacrifice the things of this world to obtain a place in the kingdom of heaven.
Note: In my experience, lessons touching on wealth and charity tend to be especially formulaic because we all give something, and while we generally agree that the gospel probably requires us to do more than we’re doing, we resent being told we’re not giving enough – nobody really wants to apply the lesson to himself. My hope with this lesson is to begin by winning over class members emotionally and spiritually by acknowledging the good that we already do and how it feels to be a part of such things, then, using the desire to prolong those feelings, move to the “we could each do more” part.
My nephew Chris had turned 19 and was a few weeks away from entering the MTC to begin his mission when the truck he was riding in was struck by oncoming traffic. Chris ended up in the hospital with a broken neck, paralyzed from the neck down. After he was stabilized, the plan was to move him to a specialized clinic in Colorado with the hope that he might recover some movement. His doctors told the family what day to expect him to be released from the hospital, and his parents and grandparents began scrambling to raise the tens of thousands of dollars that the clinic required as a deposit in advance of what the insurance was expected to pay.
Unexpectedly, the hospital notified the family one day that Chris was stable and would be discharged from the hospital later that day, many days early, before the loans to pay the deposit had been approved. The clinic would not accept Chris without that deposit, and unless he went directly to the clinic from the hospital, without spending even a single day at home or in a convalescent center, the insurance company would deem it a “break in service” and would not pay for Chris’s rehabilitation.
Chris’s stake president had been following the progress of his missionary very closely and quickly learned of the problem. His solution was to call each bishop in the stake and assign each ward a portion of the needed deposit. In turn, the bishops began calling members of their wards and asking for help. Because the time was so short, the stake couldn’t follow normal procedures of donations being funneled into the Church’s account followed by one check drawn on the deposit – instead, stake members began showing up at the hospital to hand their checks directly to the agent who would decide whether or not Chris could go to the clinic that day. It was like the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, except instead of dropping spare change into George Bailey’s basket, these good Church members were handing over checks written for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars.
The money was raised in time. Chris went to rehab.
How did the various ward bishops know which ward members to call on at such short notice?
Do you think this was the first time those members had been generous in their offerings? Why not?
What was “in it” for those who donated? Why did they do it?
Scripture Discussion and Application
The New Testament records quite a few events and parables regarding wealth and social rank. Once in a while Jesus commends people’s use of their wealth – he praises the generosity of the widow who donates her two mites, not because the sum is going to do any great good in the world but because it demonstrates her willingness to help even when it means hardship for the widow. Jesus also commends the giving of alms.
In general, though, Jesus’s teachings about wealth tend to be on the negative side. What are some of the events and parables that first occur to you regarding money?
Here are some questions for you to answer to yourselves – I’m not asking for anybody’s left hand to announce to his right hand what he has done:
Yesterday the mail carriers collected food for the Food Bank through their “stamp out hunger” program – did you put out a bag of food for them to pick up? Or maybe you donated to the Food Bank or another program to furnish turkeys to needy families for Christmas. When you paid your fast offerings recently, were you just paying a bill, or did you consciously think that you were helping the Church provide food to the hungry, or medical care to an uninsured ward member, or helping to keep a roof over a struggling family?
A Pharisee invited Jesus to come to dinner on the Sabbath. These dinners were important events in the social life of the upper classes of Jesus’s day: The upper classes invited each other as guests, knowing that the favor would be returned and they would be the guests of their friends. It was common to invite a well-known teacher to attend these dinners and speak to the guests – Jesus was probably invited in such a role. It was also customary to invite people of somewhat lower social status to demonstrate your generosity, and also to win favor and support of people who might be in a position to help you later.
Jesus, however, taught a different standard to the guests assembled for that dinner.
Luke 14: 12-14:
12 Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.
I don’t think Jesus was opposed to friendship or family reunions – what, then, was his objection to the kinds of dinners he himself had been invited to? Why? what related teachings can you think of?
Have you ever thought of your fast offerings or your donations to the Food Bank or other charities as “making a feast for the poor, them aimed, the lame, the blind”? Is that an apt description, or not, for such contributions?
If you were to think of your donations in that way, would it change the experience in any way? make it more personal? cause you to be more generous?
Are there differences between giving to the unknown needy, such as the recipients of the mail carriers’s food drive, and giving to a known recipient, like my nephew Chris? Is it easier? more difficult? Do considerations of “the worthy poor” enter into it? Are you aware of Jesus making such a distinction in his injunctions to be charitable? in his choice of people to heal, or otherwise bless?
If “the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind” cannot repay earthly generosity, when does Jesus say that generosity will be rewarded? How will it be rewarded?
The scriptures and our church discussions often center around money, because it is a handy thing that can be exchanged easily for almost everything else, and because it belongs so solidly to this world – we can’t take it with us. What other assets do we have in mortality, that make us wealthy in ways beyond gold and silver? In other words, even if you don’t have a dollar in your pocket this afternoon, in what ways are you wealthy? (List suggestions on board: Time, education, talents, health, experience, social/professional status/influence)
How can these things be considered wealth?
How can that wealth be used as a blessing, to be “recompensed at the resurrection of the just”?
How can that wealth be misused in a way that it belongs to this world and won’t prove a blessing to us in the eternities?
Let’s move on to another parable, one that we seldom discuss in Church classes because it is so odd, on the surface. Let’s turn to Luke, chapter 16, verses 1-9. Let me “translate” the story first so that it is more understandable as we read it.
Wealthy landowners in Jesus’s day often used stewards – either slaves, or, in this case, a hired servant – to manage their property. An employee who let his master’s property go to waste would inevitably be fired. In this case, the steward was fired, but he was given time to put his accounts in order before leaving – an assignment that gave the steward an opportunity for further dishonesty. He visited the men who owed money to his master – men who were, in a sense, sharecroppers, who owed money based upon the quantity of olives and grain they had grown on the master’s land. In each case, after the debtors told how much they owed, the steward told them to report much less than that. The amounts of the bills show that the debts were relatively wealthy men – the amount of olive oil reported, for instance, indicates that the man owned 150 trees – so these debtors were wealthy enough that they might employ stewards of their own; the unfaithful steward was probably hoping to curry favor with potential future employers by saving them a large portion of their debt to his current master..
With that “translation,” let’s read Luke 16:1-9 – even though the language of the King James Version can be difficult to understand, I think it’s important that we keep trying or we’ll lose the ability to understand it at all.
1And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
9And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.
Are you surprised to hear in the last verses that the master “commends” what the dishonest servant has done? Is the master showing genuine approval, or is he being sarcastic? The Master says “make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail” – that is, when you die – “[those friends] may receive you into everlasting habitations.” Believing what we do about the eternal consequences of righteousness and wickedness, what “everlasting habitations” would you expect the unjust steward to inherit?
The master says that “the children of this world” – those that seek after the things of this world – are often wiser, or more dedicated to their goals, than “the children of light” – those who seek for the light of righteousness. Is that true? Do we – do you – put as much effort into laying up treasures in heaven as we do to living as comfortably as possible in this life?
If our efforts are too heavily weighted toward the things of this world, what are some specific ways we can put more effort where Jesus would have us put it? How would [suggested effort] make us more fit for the Kingdom of God? What barriers stand in the way of putting more effort in that direction? How can we overcome those barriers?
And finally, let us read a more familiar event, in Mark 10:17-22:
17And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?
18And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.
19Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Have we been educated in the law of the Lord as well as this young man was – do we know and keep the commandments?
Notice that the young man came running after Jesus, and knelt before him. Have you ever been, or known someone who was, as eager as this young man was to learn what he must do to gain eternal life?
Some questions for personal reflection: If you have ever been so eager – if you have, as the Book of Mormon prophet Alma, “felt to sing the song of redeemer love, can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26). If not, does the wealth of this world (indicate list on board to include other types of wealth besides money) have such a claim on you today that, like the rich young man, you go away grieved? If so, what can you do about it?
Brothers and sisters, it may sometimes be easier to give – money, time, and talent – when we know who our effort is helping and when we can see the results of our giving. Certainly the people who came to the rescue of my nephew Chris were blessed in seeing him learn to walk again, and to see him go out a year later to serve his postponed mission. Other than that sense of satisfaction, though, it was not possible for Chris or our family to reward them in the way they truly deserved – that will have to wait for the Lord and Judgment Day.
It may be a little more difficult to give when we don’t see the results of our giving: You may donate to Primary Children’s Hospital, for instance, and never know exactly what child your contribution helped. You may donate a dozen turkeys to the Food Bank next Christmas and still wake up alone on Christmas morning. Your grandson might forego an athletic scholarship in order to serve a mission. You might forego an easy position in some organization that would bring you added social status, in order to devote that time to a worthy private cause, and nobody will recognize and cheer you for what you have done.
Someday, though, we will leave this world, along with all the material things we have accumulated, and all the earthly honors and pastimes that we have enjoyed. What will matter then will be the people who love us because we took the time to love them here, the thanks of the people for whom we have sacrificed our time in the temples, the memories of people like my nephew Chris who could not reward generosity in life, but who can bear testimony before God of the unselfish assistance given on earth.
May we each find ourselves wealthier in that day than we can dream of being in this life.