Luke 15

I really love the chapter of Luke 15 in the Bible.  I love parables, and two of my favorites are in here: the prodigal son and the lost sheep.

It occured to me tonight that the first few verses set the the tone for the audience that these parables are directed towards:

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. … And he spake this parable unto them, saying …

He was speaking to the spiritually outcast, those who, through their own actions, had strayed, and in each case probably felt lost, without self-worth, and not worthy or redemption.

Just as light and truth help us to see things better and understand more clearly, the same is true in reverse.  Sadness and uncertainty can make things a little confusing, and cloud our thinking.  We can come up with fixes that seem reasonable but are really not beneficial.  We can’t see things as they really are if we have wandered for some reason onto another road.  It can be hard for us to find the right way on our own.

I think a lot can be said about the social situation and emotional status of the people he’s addressing based on the circumstances of the stories.  In each case, someone is lost, but he starts at the smallest, one of a hundred, then one of ten, then one of two who are lost, and with each story, he gives more detail on how much work God goes through to rescue them.

In the parable of the lost sheep, an owner already has one hundred to his name.  Surely the loss of one is nothing major, and he could have even planned for such circumstances.  Also, this is a sheep that has been lost, not a lamb.  Meaning, it probably did not wander off innocently (the same as in the case of the prodigal son).

Something else that stood out to me tonight about the story of the prodigal son was how the father entreats the son who had not left home.

Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.

The elder brother, who was faithful, didn’t know what had happened, and the last he had heard, was that his brother had disinherited all and left to go on his own.  There was a division between the two brothers, and he preferred to interact with his own family at first indirectly through other people.

The good father intervenes on behalf of the sinner in restoring good relationships among others.  It is a very difficult position to take as an intermediary, and feelings against those who “have returned” are not uncommon, and without mediation, things may never be completely restored.

Becoming lost, being searched for, being welcomed, restoring relationships and rejoicing are also parts of repentance, and the effects of sinners returning to the Lord are felt by others as well.  While there is joy for “the ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance,” there is more for “one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:7)

I just think it’s fascinating that when there are problems, people who have drifted or become lost, that there is more to the process of coming clean than just repenting and becoming whole.  There are other factors that play a part in welcoming the person home.  They long for that connection not just to God, but to others as well.  To be outcast no more, among family and friends as well.  It makes me think about the principles of healing that need to take place when someone is lost.

“Keeping watch over their flock”

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

Earlier this week I was thinking about the Christmas story in Luke 2, and the appearance of the angel to the shepherds. It occurred to me, that the visitation came to them while they were working. I think that’s kind of interesting. I’ve noticed that when God sends a message, the method of delivery contains interesting lessons as well.

In this case, the lesson I learned is that God visits people as they are going about and fulfilling their responsibilities. Speaking for myself, I can say that the majority of personal revelation that I receive in my life comes while I am going about my day-to-day tasks … in small quiet moments when I am either pondering the scriptures, or thinking about God. This method is far more common than something coming to me while I am sitting in church or places of worship.

James Faust gave a great talk about this in a church conference that I really enjoyed, called “Some Great Thing.”

Small things can have great potential. Television, which is a great blessing to mankind, was conceived by a teenager in Idaho as he was plowing straight furrows in his father’s field with a disc harrow. He envisioned that he could transmit straight lines from one image dissector to be reproduced in another. Often we cannot see the potential in doing seemingly small things. This 14-year-old boy was doing ordinary day-to-day work when this extraordinary idea came to him. As Nephi once commented, “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.”

Camels and gnats

My commentary this time covers Matthew 23 a little bit. I love the whole chapter. When I was looking at verses 23 and 24, they got me thinking.

23. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

24. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

The Lord is coming down hard on the scribes and Pharisees for not keeping the weighter matters of the law, or the gospel. The same thing happened in Isaiah’s time as well, and he covers it beautifully in chapter one:

13. Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

14. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

15. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.

16. ¶ Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;

17. Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

One problem I’ve noticed in my own life is that as I start getting into a good rhythm — as I am observing the camels — there creeps into my life a tendency to start to focus on the small things a little bit. It is borne out of either temptation or anxiety, I’m not really sure which, but my focus on the smaller matters of the gospel tends to cause problems for me, almost to the point of superstition or karma (if I don’t do this small thing, I will lose God’s favor, for example). This has the effect of putting a huge burden on me, for every little action is filtered through the judgement of morality, or, I suppose, a strict interpretation of the law. This intense focus on small things, the gnats, becomes such a burden that I usually give up trying to be religious at all for a time, because of all the expectations I put on myself.

This week, in fact, I was wrestling with this problem. On Sunday I was considering the principles of observing the Sabbath, trying to think of what’s okay to do and what isn’t, and I was in my mind going over the minutae of things. Later on, though, I realized that I hadn’t been seeing to the more important things that week — I hadn’t done any scripture study, I missed my Bible study class because I couldn’t make it, I hadn’t been to the temple recently, and I missed my church meetings for some reason. I was skipping the big stuff and focusing on the small, and it was causing my mind to torment itself. That’s one thing I love about living the gospel, is that when you take care of the big things, everything else just falls into place and naturally makes sense. There are small course corrections, to be sure, but they do not come when you are neglecting the basics.

I’ve also noticed that whenever I find myself in any state of spiritual apathy, I tend to think that there is some special action that I should do that is tailored to my condition. But when I seek for special instruction, the answer is always the same: to do the basics. Read my scriptures, pray regularly, attend services, fast, go to the temple, and do whatever practical things I can with my immediate environment to invite the Holy Ghost. It’s not gnats at all that the Lord is concerned about, it’s the weightier matters.

After finding this revelation, it has been hugely rewarding for me to let go of my focus on the small, imperceptable matters. I know that we are commanded to watch ourselves (Alma 13:28), but again, this is to be done in wisdom and order (Mosiah 4:27).

Finally, I think it’s worth noting that if a camel dies, that small flies would devour it’s carcass. I think that’s what had happened in Jesus’ time, and it’s certainly what happens to me when I push myself too hard.

The grace of God will cover all the imperceptible imperfections. I’m grateful for that. 🙂

Archives: “Depart from me, O Lord”

For some reason, this phrase entered my mind today. I remembered it as “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinner.” I didn’t remember where it was, somewhere in the New Testament, so I looked it up and it is found in Luke — the book I have been studying most recently. The actual wording is a little different than I recalled: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)

What made me think of this was the conflict in actions that the man was displaying. I remembered that he both fell down to worship, yet at the same time beckoned for some distance. The act seems interesting to me because I believe it represents some emotional conflict. A desire to serve and be righteous, with some degree of outward performance even performed, but internally a feeling of inadequacy, observant of his own weakness. For me, that feeling can be overwhelming. There are times when it is all I can do to kneel, or some similar act, something simple, and yet feel unworthy to press on or do more. I want to do good, yet I feel like I cannot approach the Lord because of the mistakes I have made.

I think Jesus’ reply is interesting as well. “Fear not,” is the first part of his reply. Why does the Lord say that? What is the effect of fear and how does diminishing it at this time help? I believe that, in this same scenario of mixed emotions, that the feeling of inadequacy and failure robs a person of courage and then causes them to fear moving forward. I know in my own life, in the midst of confusion, every option seems fearful, full of uncertainty.

I also love how the Lord pronounces a prophecy regarding him (and his companions). The Lord is directly contradicting the vision, direction, capability and mission that Peter has set for himself. The Lord knows what he can become, and shares in small measure, a glimpse of that future.

It occurs to me that there’s some significance to the fact that they were on the water, a place of unrest and uncertain surface. Before they could follow the master, they had to bring their ships to land (5:11). I have noticed in my own life, that when I am uncertain and unsteady, that if I return to doing the small things (reading a bit of scripture, for example), that it grounds me, and makes me able to do more. In contrast, a sense of despair and discouragement is often accompanied by a stage of apathy.

Finally, the efforts of following the Lord may seem sacrificial, but are really beneficial, for “they forsook all”. Not only their past possessions, but their past difficulties, to be replaced with anxiety and cares and the other feelings that come in the service of others — the yoke of the Lord — completely displacing their old woes. While the actions are first, the feelings will follow.

New blog

Hello there. I’ve been writing more and more posts regarding religion and scripture study on my personal blog, so I thought it might be a good idea to start a new one just for that. 🙂

Plus, I’ve been cleaning up my old website, nephi.org. It’s long been unmaintained, and I’m interested in poking and prodding at it a bit. Right now, it’s got a few bugs hanging about, but I’m working on it in the background on a new host and I’ll have it cleaned up proper soon.

If you want to read what this blog is about, just check out the about page.

I’m going to copy my blog posts about scriptures from my personal one over to here, just so I have them all archived in one place. So there will be a lot of content, but it’ll already be familiar to some.

Comments are enabled for the blog posts, so I’d be interested in hearing your comments if you have any to share. 🙂