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.
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.
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:
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. :)
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Filed under New Testament, Personal commentary