As we study the final chapters before Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before Passover, we find ourselves with Jesus and a fairly large crowd on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Most likely the events in these chapters occur in and around Jericho.
One of my favorite parables is in Matthew 20, “The Parable of the Laborers”, and I am excited to walk through it. I have found that some of the feelings that cause the most damage to our souls are confronted in that parable.
Pride is a word we hear a lot in religious contexts, and I think we are all familiar with its basic meaning. However, I think an underappreciated component of pride is comparison. When we compare our situation with others in certain contexts it can bring feelings that lead us away from the spirit. These feelings of jealousy, resentment, frustration, distrust, feeling left out, and self-satisfaction can lead to an erosion in our relationships, and in particular can devolve our faith in God into skepticism and hopelessness.
I hope that as we study these chapters we can find a way to counteract those feelings and maybe even remove them from our lives as disciples. Jesus challenges us to be the best versions of our individual selves. It takes introspection and pondering to think of ways in which we can improve, but when coupled with studying His teachings, introspection and pondering can lead to important moments of breakthrough.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 19 – Matt 19-20, Mark 10, Luke 18
– Marriage is important, and requires eliminating pride for it to be successful.
– Comparing our situations with others leads us down the wrong path. The sun and rain come to the good and the bad.
– Desiring power, control, or influence is the not the path of the disciple. Influence comes to the disciple as a consequence of service, teaching, and setting an example.
Context and Timeline:
– The distance between Jericho and Jerusalem was about 16 miles. It was called the “Way of Blood” because of the dangerous reputation it carried at the time of Jesus. Close to halfway was Bethany where Jesus set up camp during these last months of His life.
– In Jesus’s time, divorce was very common. According to some rabbis, it was acceptable for a man to divorce his wife if she burnt dinner. However, according to the Law of Moses, women were not able to divorce their husbands for any reason. When the Pharisee’s question Jesus about divorce there were two factions present. One faction represented the idea that divorce had become too commonplace and should not be justified, while others believed the current system was correct.
– There is an erroneous assumption that the “Eye of the Needle” was a gate that camel’s had to kneel and crawl to enter. The problem with this analogy is that there is no evidence anywhere that there were gates like this at the time of Jesus. They were not found in Damascus or Jerusalem until the 12th century AD. In addition, camels are unable to crawl on their knees. However, the idiom was popular at the time of Jesus, sometimes with an elephant being the animal, as a way to describe something that would be almost impossible.
– One silver coin, or Denarius, would have been a very small amount for wages at the time of Jesus. In North Africa during the same time period 3-8 Denarius was common for the poorest workers.
– Servant is the same root word as deacon. It also is a messianic reference as the Son of Man is considered the servant, or deacon, of all. Priesthood offices are at their most basic service based commitments, not advancement based.
– James is translated more accurately as Jacob, but because of the common acceptance of James that is what most translators use.
– The events in these chapters occur sometime between September and March.
At some point in Jesus’s journey to the areas around Jerusalem He gathered a great following of people. It is likely His fame from the north preceded Him at the Feast of the Tabernacles. In any case this following lead some Pharisees to Him. In an effort to discredit the Savior in front of the crowd of people they ask Jesus if a man can divorce his wife for any reason. Rather than answering the question Jesus turns the question from a male-centric “if my wife isn’t good enough I should get a new one” point of view into a partner-centric “man and woman leave their families and join together to be one flesh” point of view.
I think this is the first in a series of challenges that the Savior makes to us in terms of our attitude toward our relationships. These challenges all relate to pride and so I am going to note each challenge.
Challenge 1: Marriage is a great test of not exalting ourselves over another. It requires the same characteristics of discipleship for it to be successful.
At some point after this confrontation some little children are brought to the Lord to be blessed and prayed over. A few of the disciples appear to think Jesus has better things to do and rebuke the families. Jesus rebukes the disciples and says that little children are who the kingdom belongs to. In most cases we interpret this statement in valuing childlike attributes above other attributes. However, I feel like Jesus is saying to the disciples, as He has about other marginalized people, that those we think less important are the most important.
Challenge 2: We are not more important than even those esteemed less by society.
The next story is one of the most famous in all of the gospels. A rich young man approaches Jesus to discuss his salvation. It seems the man is genuine in his question about what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds that the man should keep the commandments, even listing them out specifically. The man claims to have already done this, and so Jesus takes it a step further by challenging the man to sell his belongings and give them to the poor and then come follow Him.
When reading three separate accounts you get a sense that Jesus loved the young man and was not rebuking him, but making a very strong challenge about possessions. Jesus then continues on with His disciples and says that it is nearly impossible for someone who is rich, or cares about riches, to enter the kingdom of God. They complain by saying, “who can be saved then?”, as if this includes everyone. Jesus responds by simply saying that with God it is possible. Trusting in our own efforts will not result in salvation or eternal life, but giving all of that up in our hearts will put us in harmony with God to be saved.
Challenge 3: Possessions, wealth, power, and relationships are not more important than salvation. We must be willing in our hearts to give up all of those things and rely on Jesus.
Jesus taught three specific parables in these chapters that illustrate further challenges.
In the first parable (Luke 18), Jesus talks of an unrighteous judge who after being consistently bothered by a widow eventually responds to her petitions. He explains that if the unrighteous judge will respond, then trust that the righteous judge (God) will respond to our prayers, but we must pray and ask for help.
Challenge 4: Will we seek God’s help and trust that it will come even if it takes time?
As a follow up to the first parable, Jesus speaks a parable specifically to those who trust themselves that they are righteous and despise others. Two men go to the temple to pray. One, the Pharisee who is supposed to be righteous, thanks God for his righteousness and that he is unlike all the sinners because he fasts, tithes, and is obedient. The second, the tax collector and a traitor to the Jews, cannot look up toward God and yet prays for God to be merciful to him. Jesus clarifies that the second man’s prayer was justified and that when we exalt ourselves over others we will be humbled.
Challenge 5: We cannot compare sins. We are all sinners and all need mercy. We also cannot place ourselves above others in our hearts.
The final parable to discuss is found in Matthew. It is one of my favorites, if not my favorite. A householder of a vineyard, which is compared to the kingdom of heaven, has decided to hire out work on his vineyard for the day. He finds some laborers in the morning and agrees to pay them a silver coin for their work. Every few hours from that point he hires more laborers to work in the vineyard. Eventually it is one hour before the end of the workday and the householder hires people who have not been hired yet to work in the vineyard. When the workday ends the householder pays all the laborers the same silver coin. The early laborers do not believe this is fair and complain but the householder simply says that they got what they agreed and he wants to pay the later workers more, even though he could have paid them less. It the early workers that are evil by seeing the good he is doing as injustice.
I had a friend recently ask me why I loved this parable so much and my response was because this is something that we all struggle with. We are solely focused on how things affect us. It is easy to see the point of the early laborers. They worked hard all day. However, they did not see that these other laborers who had not been hired, even though they were looking, had families to feed as well and it is a good thing the householder was willing to pay them more. It is easy to see all the people around us and to make judgments about what they deserve, what we deserve, why this happens to them, why this happens to us, but those feelings only create evil in our lives. They separate us from God, they separate us from our loved ones, they separate us from potential relationships, and that separation is the goal of the adversary.
Jesus is challenging us to be happy for others, to be grateful for what we have, to give more to some when we feel it is necessary, to sacrifice our pride and glory for others when their time is at hand. It isn’t easy to feel the way the laborers did, but it brings out the best in us when we can move past that and be happy for the late coming laborers. When it comes to heaven I think we find it unfair to think someone might make it into heaven who didn’t sacrifice like we did, and I think that feeling needs to flee our hearts. We should want everyone there, and let Christ decide on His own.
Challenge 6: Overcome the feelings of needing justice and fairness by learning to embrace mercy, grace and love in our dealings with others.
At some point after arriving around Jericho, the Savior again explains that He will be going to Jerusalem very soon and that He will be killed and raise again the third day. It seems that at least James and John do not understand what He is saying based on the encounter Jesus has with their mother. She comes to Jesus shortly before they are leaving to Jerusalem and asks if John and James can be seated on His right and left in Jesus new kingdom. She is likely referring to what many were hoping for, the political takeover of Jerusalem. Jesus ignores her likely meaning and simply says that the bitter cup He is about take is too much for them. They claim they are willing, but then Jesus says that it is up to God.
The other apostles are upset at James and John for being so presumptuous and likely they felt the way the parable of the laborers is telling us not to feel. Jesus then makes the challenges He has been making even more clear by saying that the powerful will rule the Gentiles, but with God those who are greatest as those who seek to be servants. He even goes as far to say that those who will be first among us will be slaves to the rest and that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as ransom for us all.
Challenge 7: Being the decision maker is not important, but being the servant and the helper in doing good is important.
As Jesus and the apostles set out to Jerusalem they pass two blind men on the side of the road. They cry out for Jesus to have mercy on them. The rest of the crowd tells them to be quiet, but they yelled louder asking Jesus to have mercy on them. He asks what He can do and they ask to see again. Jesus heals them and they follow the Lord on the journey to Jerusalem.
In what ways does marriage challenge us? How can improving our discipleship improve our marriage? What do we think our children see in the relationship between our marriage and what value living the gospel has in our lives?
How does riches, or possessions impact our humility? How does it make it difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven? How can we combat that?
Why is it so difficult to find joy in others success when it feels at our own expense? Can you think of ways to change that feeling and make it something positive?
Why do people desire position and power over peace and happiness? What can we do to change that in ourselves?
Key Moment or Scripture: Mark 10:20-22
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then 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.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Sometimes it is easy to judge this young man, who had sought his entire life to do what is right, because it seemed he was unwilling to part with his possessions. However, we do not know how the young man’s story played out. Maybe he did sell his possessions, maybe he did commit to making other people’s lives better. I like to think that when Mark says that Jesus loved the young man, that this meant Jesus saw into his heart and knew that the young man would find his way.
This is our part in the plan. Our part is to learn and help, not to judge, compare, and condemn. I have so many stories, as I am sure others do, of people who came back to the fold because of love and compassion. I know of no story where someone came back because of self-righteous judgment or condemnation. The challenges in these chapters are not easy to do and like the young man it may seem easy to be sorrowful and walk away.
However, I hope we can see the mercy and grace that is underpinned to these teachings. In the stories and parables Jesus is teaching us that all we need to do is ask for help. We just need to admit we need Jesus. The young man was asking how the young man could save himself. Jesus tells the apostles it is impossible for man to save himself. However, with God we can all be saved, we just need to admit we need help and then try to help others. That way of living brings joy, unity, love, peace, and hope.
There are some good videos out there about the parable of the laborers. I recommend watching those with your families. I also just want to note that seeking to be successful is not evil. However, success being our only goal can lead us away from God. I think the Savior is warning us in these chapters to what pride and messed up priorities can mean for our lives.