The current manual states the purpose of Lesson 23 as “to inspire class members to follow Jesus’ example by loving and serving others,” but devotes most of its space to the instituting of the sacrament. A pair of lessons from Obert C. Tanner’s 1935 The New Testament Speaks outlines the views of that generation of Latter-day Saints toward the practical nature of “Putting Religion into Action,” including especially serving others.
PUTTING RELIGION INTO ACTION
The Discourse on Forgiveness and Responsibility. (Read from the Bible: Luke 17:1-10.)
Jesus here insists upon two important elements in his gospel: first, the duty to forgive; and second, the sin of tempting, or in any way making it difficult for another to live a good life. Of this last evil, he said: “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him through whom they come!”
Jesus knew the social tendencies of mankind. He understood how easily individuals are influenced by friendship, by persuasion, by suggestion, and by example. He therefore cautioned people to be careful, that in their lives they do not find themselves the influence and cause of others stumbling along the pathway of life. “Alas!” said he, “for the man who causes them!”
Ah, random, childish hands, that deal
Quick thrusts no coat of proof could stay!
It touched him with the touch of steel –
‘I stepped in your steps all the way!’
“If this man shirks his manhood’s due
And heeds what lying voices say,
It is not one who falls, but two,
‘I stepped in your steps all the way!’”
Jesus taught a faith that required men to do their best, regardless of orders or commands. In giving the parable of the Master and Slave, he did not approve of the conduct of the master, but merely stated the condition then existing between an Oriental master and a slave. the truth he wished to teach by this parable is the thought that just as the master values lightly the mere fulfilment of orders, so does the man of faith lightly value the mere obedience of orders in his life. the man of faith has a power which is immeasurable, while the man of obedience to orders has only power to perform the tasks which are commanded of him. So Jesus teaches us that what a slave would do under severe compulsion, we must also do, and then some, if we are to give ourselves freely to his cause.
The Healing of the Ten Lepers. (Read from the Bible: Luke 17:11-19.)
This incident took place somewhere in either Galilee or Samaria. It is difficult to arrange the events in Luke’s gospel (chapters 9;51; 19:28) in their chronological order. At this time Jesus seemed to be some distance from Jerusalem, for “he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.” News of the Master’s coming had likely preceded him to a certain village, and “there met him ten men that were lepers.” Even in their anxiousness to get his help, they carefully avoided coming too close, for they “stood afar off.” But they cried to him for mercy. He told them to “go shew yourselves unto the priests. (See Lev. 14:2) And it came to pass that as they went, they were cleansed.”
Faith in Jesus was the source by which physical ills were healed. but it was also a source of even higher values – values which lead men and women, as it did this Samaritan leper, after being healed, to return to the master and show his thankfulness and gratitude for the blessing that had come to him.
The nine lepers were healed of a dread disease, yet it is doubtful that Jesus had any reference to them when he said: “Thy faith hath made thee whole.” For while they were healed physically, the Samaritan that returned was restored to a greater faith, as was evidenced by his thoughtful gratitude.
The Discourse on the Coming of the Kingdom. (Read from the Bible: Luke 17:20-37.)
Jesus talked to the people on the most interesting question of his day: When will the Kingdom of heaven come, and what will be the signs of its coming? Jesus answered: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Thus, he corrected the false idea of a kingdom of outward force. To him it was no new political dynasty that was to come forth on a certain day. Rather, it was a new moral order; one that was to gradually come into force in the lives of mankind. Even now, that was beginning to take place. The Kingdom was not to come from observation. There was to be no great announcement of it. Rather, it is invisible and inward, and will show itself in deeds of the righteous. It is to work like leaven, until all of mankind is affected by it.
The Parable of the Unjust Judge. (Read from the Bible: Luke 18:1-8.)
The reason for giving the Parable of the Unjust Judge is stated in verse 1: “And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Briefly, the reaching of Jesus in the parable is this: If by patient effort and persistent importunity, a selfish and unjust judge can be stimulated to give needed relief, how much more true is it that, through persistent praying, our heavenly Father will reward our patience. In this parable, the judge stands in contrast with God.
But many people become impatient and discouraged with praying. They do not realize that some of our greatest desires take a long time to be fulfilled. Speaking to those who give up praying too soon, who lack the patience of the importunate widow in Christ’s parable, Spurgeon says: “It may be your prayer is like a ship, which, when it goes on a very long voyage, does not come home laden so soon; but when it does come home, it has a richer freight. Mere ‘coasters’ will bring you coals, or such like ordinary things; but they that go afar to Tarshish return with gold and ivory. Coasting prayers, such as we pray every day, bring us many necessaries, but there are great prayers, which, like the old Spanish galleons, cross the main ocean, and are longer out of sight, but come home deep laden with a golden freight.”
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican:
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14.)
There are many ways in which we express our real characters, our speech, our gestures, our expressions, and our habits. But it is said that nothing reveals a man with a brighter light, than his own private prayers. “What he actually is is surely revealed when he prays.” Jesus is not describing in this parable two kinds of prayers, but two kinds of characters. He is making a plea for men to be guarded against an unsympathetic pride. His parable is a plea for some of the finest qualities of character – humility, meekness, penitence, and a hunger and thirst after righteousness.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray”: Luccock says of them: “They went up in Jesus’ day. They went up to church last Sunday. They will be there again next Sunday. They live on our block. They walk our streets. They come into our houses. We see them everywhere we turn, even when we look in the mirror. Let us study what meaning they may have for us; how they came to be what they were; and, above all, let us discover how it was that, with so many good deeds to his credit, the Pharisee was nevertheless a thing odious to God and man; while the publican, with so much evil-doing against him, found his way into the pathway of blessing and grace.” [Luccock, Studies in the Parables of Jesus, p. 96.]
The Pharisee, as he prayed, was extremely confident. And it is not impossible that as he prayed he stood where he could be seen by all. He was self-sufficient to his own mind. He lacked nothing. In his own eyes, he was a true patriot, and he was respected by all in the community. He saw in himself a virtuous man, according to all the known rules of Phariseeism. There was no need for him to seek, or ask, or knock. In his own eyes, he had everything a man was in need of. And in addition to all this, he “prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all I possess.” “We can hear the ‘I, I, I,’ go thumping all the way through his address like a flat wheel on a trolley car.” thus, he informs those that are interested, that he has fulfilled all the requirements, no matter which way he is judged. But his virtue was of the negative kind. He had failed to be active in doing good. His deeds were those of an actor, “to be seen of men.”
Prayer comes only from the “humble and contrite heart.” the sinner did not have to overcome any snobbishness or ideas of superiority, either in wealth, occupation, position, or religion. He was humble. He realized his great need to gain those qualities of character that Jesus had called “blessed” – the “pure in heart,” “poor in spirit,” and “they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” “god be merciful to me a sinner,” he said.
“to men went up to pray? Oh, rather say,
One went to brag, the other went to pray.”
Jesus saw in the sinner one with good possibilities, one who was anxious for help. In the Pharisee, he saw a religion of his day which was practised in a self-satisfied, smug life; a life that had no desire to improve. He saw a man who was unneighborly, one who separated himself from the poor, unfortunate people, and thus separated himself from God.
The tumult and the shouting dies,
The captains and the kings depart;
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice, –
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord, God of hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, – lest we forget.
A Minute for Meditation:
Hard though it be, we pray for the vision “to see ourselves as others see us.” And more than this, to see ourselves as we really are. In our views of other people and their religion, may we not be as the Pharisee – unable to see any beauty in the life or religion of the publican. May God spare our faith from a bigotry which shuts out the finer graces of religion – generosity, kindness, understanding, and humility.
Questions for the Chapter Review:
1. What is the meaning of the Savior’s words: “It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him through whom they come”?
2. Explain the contrast of the religion as expressed in verses 5, 6, 7-10 of the 17th chapter of Luke. What is the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the Master and the Slave?
3. Tell the story of the healing of the ten lepers. Which of the ten was fully restored? How?
4. What does Jesus teach concerning the coming of the kingdom of heaven?
5. Compare the Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8), and the parable of the Friend at Midnight.
6. Tell the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Who were the Publicans? What truth does Jesus teach in this parable?
Suggestive Problems for Discussion in Class:
1. Are there some in your community who would be intellectual Pharisees? Explain what such a person is like. Are you thankful that you are not like the “crude, loud, ignorant family across the street, or ‘the masses’ on the other side of town?” Are you a racial Pharisee? – one of those who thank God they are not as the foreigners – “wops,” “chinks,” and “dagoes”? Are you a social Pharisee? Do you know people who, because of their wealth, position, or occupation, thank God they are not as the rest of men? Do you know sectarian Pharisees – those who thank God their religion is not one of darkness, like other religions? Are you, in your thinking, related to the Pharisee of Christ’s parable? How would Jesus want you to be in the above questions?
2. When the question is asked whether a person is religious or not, what are the kind of facts which are usually mentioned as evidence? Which si the higher standard of righteousness, attendance at church, payment of tithes, prayers, fasting, etc., or refraining from speaking evil, controlling one’s temper, refraining from impure thought, being kind, patient, and avoiding envy and selfishness? Point out the danger we face in choosing the lower standard.
3. Summarize the teachings of Jesus on the subject of prayer, as given in this lesson.
PUTTING RELIGION INTO ACTION (Continued)
The Defense for the Family.
The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
And he answered and said unto them, have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female,
And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
they say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
He saith unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.
But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. (Matt. 19:3-11.)
“The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him”: Their purpose was to trap Jesus with a skillful question. “is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” Goodspeed translates “for any cause,” which is in keeping with Mark 10:2. This question of divorce presented difficulties one very side. The law of Moses was not clear on the subject. Thus, at the time of Jesus, there were two different schools of thought among the Rabbis. Their conclusions were far reaching, affecting the morals and customs of the Jewish people.
According to the Law (Deut. 24:1-2), the rule was given that when a man married a wife, and “she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness (ervath dabbar) in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.” The Jewish Rabbis divided on the interpretation of “ervath dabbar,” translated into English “uncleanness.” One school of thought, championed by the great teacher Hillel, taught that a man might “divorce his wife for any disgust which he felt for her,” or even because he saw a woman more pleasing to him. This interpretation led to immorality, and was similar to the loose social system among the Romans at that time. the result was the rapid undermining of family life. The other school, headed by the equally great teacher, Shammai, interpreted “ervath dabbar” (uncleanness) to mean that divorce was only justified where a man’s wife was guilty of adultery.
The vast majority of people in Jesus’ day acted upon the interpretation laid down by Hillel. The earlier teaching of Jesus on this question, given in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matt. 5:31-32), was known to these Rabbis. In the light of that earlier statement, the Rabbis must have felt confident Jesus would decide on the strict interpretation of Shammai. If he now did so, he would be publicly announcing the adultery and sin of Herod Antipas for living with Herodias, his brother’s former wife. (See Matt. 14:3-10.) John the Baptist had already lost his head because of his boldness in making the same accusation, and even now Herod Antipas was inquiring after Jesus. 9Luke 13:31) Jesus might incur the popular displeasure as well.
“And he answered”: There was no hesitation in that spontaneous overflowing of wisdom. “Have ye not read?” was a direct reproof of the Rabbis, who had become so immersed in the interpretation of a word. “He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female.” “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.” (See Gen. 1:27; also, Gen. 2:24.) According to this original law, marriage was a sacred institution, ordained by God. It directly condemned the divorce practices of the day. The Rabbis could not refute nor challenge it; because it was written law. And he continued: “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” The Rabbis had approached him, confident in their learning, and they were defeated by a single sentence from the scriptures which they professed to know.
“They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement?” It was a clever question. Apparently Jesus must depart from the authority of God’s first law of marriage, as given in Genesis, or condemn the law of Moses. but he did neither.
“Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so”: that is, Moses had adjusted the law to fit the people of his day, who had not yet come to realize that divorce was wrong. He had, in the words of Paul, “fed them meat convenient for them,” and had regulated, rather than prohibited, divorce. Solon, the Athenian lawgiver, was once asked which laws of those he had made were best. He answered: “They were best, which the citizens could receive.” Moses’ law of divorce was necessary, because of the failure of the people to live the Divine law. “It was no privilege – but their ‘condemnation and shame.’” the false screen behind which Jewish immorality was hiding was thus thrust violently aside, and God’s mandate of marriage revealed in its purity.
“Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery”; Most authorities believe the exception for fornication to be a later addition to Jesus’ words. Dr. Kent, in his “Social Teachings of the Prophets and Jesus,” (p. 243) contends that a proper translation should read: “Whosoever shall divorce his wife in order to marry another, commits adultery against her.”
Jesus had, in a single stroke, cut to the heart of an eternal social problem. The Rabbis were taken back. Even the disciples murmured. The dispute of the Hillel and shammai schools, over the interpretation of a word, became utter foolishness.
The law of Moses might be interpreted to permit divorce – Moses may have allowed it –0 but how woefully that missed the point! All that the law permits is not necessarily right to do. There is meaning to right and wrong quite above statutes and police courts. Jesus saw alla bout him, that the breaking up of the home was accompanied by evil. And all the laws, or interpretations of laws, could not make an evil acceptable in the sight of God. he saw women degraded, their rights trampled on, their equality denied; he saw children, left fatherless or motherless, crying in the streets for bread; he saw duty and responsibility forgotten. In his Kingdom, it would not be so. Love must so enter the family relationship, that divorce becomes an impossibility. Husband and wife must lose their lives to find a higher life. They must die individually, to find a fuller life together.
His disciples hesitated before such responsibility. If such be true, “it is not good to marry. All men cannot receive this saying,” that is, live it. Marriage is God-given. It is the highest state of man. to avoid it through cowardice, is to miss its blessings.
“… marble floors and gilded walls
Can never make a home.
But every home where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home, sweet home,
For there the heart can rest.”
– Henry Van Dyke.
Jesus Blesses Little Children.
And they brought young children to him, that he should touch 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 hand upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16.)
The custom of blessing children still prevails in Palestine and elsewhere. That the disciples rebuked those who brought their children, may have indicated a disturbance of the schedule planned for the day. If so, it again shows how Jesus could thrust aside all other things in his great love of human beings. Following so closely after his discussion of the family, his love for children here manifested must have added emphasis to the former teaching.
“Forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God,” i.e., “to such it belongs.” The qualities of a child, his trustfulness, innocence, teachableness, sincerity, made the child almost automatically of the Kingdom. of all those in the multitude, the children who had not yet entered the ways of sin and hypocrisy were ready for the Kingdom, without first undergoing a change of heart.
“Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein”: Men’s hearts must change. All the acquired hardness of the years since childhood; all the accumulated sins must be cut away; and they must stand clean as a child before the Master. The Kingdom of God now shone forth in a new light. It was a striking contrast to Rabbinical views. to their understanding only the learned could be sinless, and hence, prepared for the Kingdom. the requirements in training and age were high for admission into the Jewish councils. Neither the actions of children nor their words were considered worthy of notice. Even the gospel writers paid little attention to childhood and the childhood of Jesus is passed by with scant notice. But Jesus raised childhood to a high plane. He saw in children the future sons and daughters of God.
“And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them”: No student of history can deny that Jesus started a new attitude toward children. Some of the results of his teachings we are only now beginning to realize in this twentieth century. In the address delivered at the funeral of Henry Ward Beecher, the Rev. C.H. hall said: ‘On his last Sunday evening in this place, two weeks ago, after the congregation had retired from it, the organist and one or two others were practicing the hym, ‘I heard the voice of Jesus say, Come unto me and rest.’ Mr. Beecher remained and listened. Two street urchins were prompted to wander into the building, and one of them was standing gazing up at the organ. The old man, laying his hands on the boy’s head, turned his face upward and kissed him, and with his arms about the two, left the scene of his triumphs, his trials, and his successes, forever. It was a fitting close to a grand life, the old man of genius and fame shielding the little wanderers, great in breasting traditional ways and prejudices, great, also, in the gesture so like him, that recognized, as did the Master, that the humblest and poorest were his brethren. We bid him here farewell, but to me oftenest will come the vision of him passing out of yonder door with his arm about the boys, passing on to the city of God, where he hears again the familiar voice of the Master saying ‘Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”“ [Abbott and Halliday, Henry Ward Beecher.]
A Minute for Meditation:
What then is an ideal home – model home … such as a young man starting out in life should wish to erect for himself? And the answer came to me: It is one in which all worldly considerations are secondary. One in which the father is devoted to the family with which God has blessed him, counting them of first importance, and in which they in turn permit him to live in their hearts. One in which there is confidence, union, love, sacred devotion between father and mother and children and parents. One in which the mother takes every pleasure in her children, supported by the father – all being moral, pure, God-fearing. … Peace, order, and contentment reign in the hearts of the inmates – let them be rich or poor, in things material. There are no vain regrets; no expressions of discontent against father, from the boys and girls, in which they complain: “if we only had this or that, or were like this family or that, or could do like so and so!” – complaints that have caused fathers many uncertain steps, dim eyes, restless nights, and untold anxiety. In their place is the loving thoughtfulness to mother and father by which the boys and girls work with a will and a determination to carry some of the burden that the parents have staggered under these many years. There is the kiss for mother, the caress for father, the thought that they have sacrificed their own hopes and ambitions, their strength, even life itself to their children – there is gratitude in payment for all that has been given them! – Joseph F. Smith.
Questions for the chapter Review:
1. Why was the question of divorce, which the Pharisees asked of Jesus, an important one at that time?
2. Why was this question a dangerous one to answer? How did Jesus answer it?
3. Why was the question, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement?’ also a difficult one to answer? How did Jesus answer it? Explain how this answer reached the heart of the problem of divorce.
4. Explain the words of Jesus: “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”
5. Describe the attitude of Jesus toward little children.
Suggestive Problems for Discussion in Class:
1. What was Jesus’ conception of marriage?
2. In view of the possibility that in the few years ahead you may be forming a partnership in a home, consider these facts: during the past ten years in America, divorces have increased seventy-five per cent. eighty per cent of the divorce proceedings were started by women. One of the greatest causes of divorce is listed in the statistics as “neglect of parents’ admonition (teachings).” Explain why this cause should be seriously considered by young people.
3. Another cause for divorce is listed as “hasty marriages.” List some of the precautions which will help young men and women to face this greatest of life problems.
4. Work out a religious program for an ideal home, considering such items as family worship, the use of the bible in the home, the family and the church, the blessing at the table, Sunday at home, etc.
5. What are some of the teachings of Jesus which, if followed out in your individual lives, would make your home a happier one?
6. Is divorce always wrong?
7. What did Jesus mean when he said of little children, “of such is the kingdom of God”?