Feast upon the Word Blog

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NT Sunday School Lesson 14 (JF): Matthew 18; Luke 10

Posted by Jim F. on March 20, 2011

Matthew 18

Verses 1-4: Why do the disciples ask the question that they pose in verse 1? What does it suggest about their understanding of Jesus’ message? What do you make of the fact that they are arguing about who shall be first so shortly after Jesus has talked about his coming death (Matthew 17:22)?

In verse 3, the verb “be converted” translates a Greek verb that means “turn.” To be converted, to repent, is to turn back, to return. In what sense is repentance a return?

Christ says that no one can even enter the kingdom (or reign) of heaven without becoming like a child. Then in verse 4 he says that if a person humbles himself and becomes as a child, then he or she is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. A logical conclusion from the two claims (though rhetoric may trump logic here) is that everyone who enters the kingdom of heaven is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. How do you make sense of that conclusion?

In Israel and Rome at this time, the child was not a legal person. Children were the property of their parents. Is that relevant to understanding what Jesus meant when he said that we must become as children to take part in the reign of heaven? How is what Jesus says an answer to the disciples’ question?

Verses 5-6: Having answered the disciples’ question very briefly, Jesus moves to a discussion of offenses. Why? How are the two discussions connected? Is Jesus speaking only of children here, or is he speaking also of those who have become as little children? Does the use of the phrase “little ones who believe in me” in verse 6, rather than “children,” suggest that he has in mind a wider meaning? (Many commentators believe that the first fourteen verses are about believers rather than children. They take the child to be an example of what the disciples are to become.) The Greek word translated “offend” means “to cause to stumble.” What do you think that Jesus is speaking of?

Verses 7-9: What does it mean to say “it must needs be that offences [stumblings] come”? Does it mean that stumbling is unavoidable or is Jesus speaking hyperbolically? What is the point of verses 8-9? Does the Joseph Smith Translation help us see that point more clearly?

In verses  6-7, Jesus speaks of one person who causes another to stumble. How is it significant that he now speaks of being caused to stumble by one’s own hand, foot, or eye? Does the JST answer that question?

Verse 9 refers to “hell fire” and may be a reference to Isaiah 66:24. Mark 9:47 gives the place a name, Gehenna, the name of the valley south of Jerusalem where trash was burned (though that name is not carried over into the King James translation). Isaiah seems to have that place in mind when he speaks of hell, into which Israel’s enemies would be cast. Does knowing these things add any meaning to these verses? They seem to be addressed to those who are or will be leaders in the church. How do they compare to the things he has said about the Pharisees and other leaders of the Jewish community at the time?

Verses 10-14: In verse 10 Jesus returns to the discussion of offending the little ones, though now he warns against despising them. The word translated “despise” could also be translated “not concerned for.” I prefer the second translation because it shows better the connection between verse 10 and verses 11-14. Why do you think Jesus returns to the earlier discussion of the little ones?

What does Jesus mean when he says “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven”? Who are “their angels”? This seems fairly clearly to be a reference to guardian angels. Is that belief doctrinal, or is it a belief from the time period that Jesus was using to make a point—without necessarily endorsing the belief? What is the point of their angels’ rather than the little children beholding the face of the Father?

What does it mean always to behold the face of the Father? The word translated “face” can also be translated “person,” and in Greek “those who see the face of a king” is used as a title for court officials. What happens to the meaning of the verse if we use those translations?

How are verses 11-14 connected to verse 10? The first word of verse 11 is “for,” suggesting that there is a connection, that somehow verses 11-14 explain verse 10.

Sheep naturally stay together in a herd. How would one of the sheep have become lost? By stumbling? Does the parable teach that the one lost sheep is more important than the 99? Is this a parable about Jesus or about the leaders of the church?

Verses 15-17: How does Jesus’ advice here relate to the parable of the lost sheep? What does forgiving those who trespass have to do with lost sheep?

Explain verses 16-17. What does it mean to say that someone who will not deal with your complaint about his fault should, after all else, be dealt with as a Gentile and a tax-collector?

Verse 18: How does this verse fit with the theme we have seen so far in the chapter, that of offense and resolving offense? Is it an expansion of the last part of verse 17?

Verses 19-20: Jesus seems to be speaking of shared prayer. What do these verses have to do with the theme of the previous verses?

Verses 21-35: The number seven was considered to be a “perfect” number, a number that showed completion. So when Peter asks Jesus whether he should forgive his brother seven times, he is implying that there is a limit to the number of times he must forgive: to the point at which the forgiveness is complete. Then if the offender continues to offend, forgiveness isn’t required. How should we understand Jesus’ response?

Notice that Jesus gives the explanation of the parable and then the parable. Why do you think he does that? The parable tells of a king who begins to check the account books of those in his court. In this case the word “servant” probably refers to a high official in the court. Otherwise he couldn’t have amassed such an incredible debt.

We can’t be sure of how to convert ancient money to contemporary values, but some have estimated that 10,000 talents would have been about 6,500,000 pounds of silver. (That’s about $30,000,000 in modern prices, but the value of silver has dramatically decreased over the last 600 years. In Jesus’ time it might have been worth as much as $3,250,000,000 in today’s dollars, perhaps more than all the wealth of the existing nations of the ancient world.) However accurate our estimates of the value of that much silver might be, the point is that the servant owed the king an enormous amount of money, and the implication is that he may have obtained it fraudulently.

Standard practice was to sell into slavery a debtor who could not pay, and also his family, and to sell all of their possessions. That wouldn’t have paid the debt, but it would have punished the servant. How realistic was the servant’s promise to pay the debt?

What reason does Jesus give for the king forgiving the debt? The word translated “moved with compassion” means literally “inner organs were moved.” Jews and early Christians believed that the inner organs—intestines, liver, stomach, heart, etc.—were where our deep emotions are felt. What does that tell us about the king’s response to his servant?

As the LDS footnotes for verse 28 point out, 100 pence was about three month’s wagers for a laborer. What point is Jesus making by making the discrepancy in the debts so enormous?

When the king learns of how the servant has treated his fellow servant, why does the king have the first servant tortured? Since the debt the servant owes cannot be repaid—it is too large and as long as he is being tortured, he has no way to get the money for payment—how long will the torture last? Why does Jesus include the point about torture in the parable? What is the point of this parable as a whole?

I have pointed out before that parables often answer a question that the disciple didn’t ask but that was a more important question. Does this parable do that?

Luke 10

Verse 1: Some interpreters see a connection between the 70 sent out to preach the gospel and the list of 70 nations in Genesis 10. If there is a connection, what does it tell us about the 70? Note that “70,” like “7,” is a number used to denote perfection or completion. “The 70 nations” means “the whole world.”

Verses 2-16: What is the point of verse 2? What are we admonished to pray for?

In verse 3, Jesus shifts the metaphor from laborers in the field to sheep among wolves. What is the point of that shift?

The word translated “scrip” in verse 4 means “traveler’s bag.” What is the point of verse 4? What does Jesus mean when he tells the 70 not to greet people along the way? Does the reference in footnote 4b suggest an answer?

What does verse 6 mean by “the son of peace”? Most interpreters do not think that the phrase refers to the Lord. Evidently the King James translators didn’t think that, or they would have capitalized the phrase. What else could it mean?

Verses 7-8 don’t stand out for us, but they probably did for the 70 for “eat what they give you” contrasts sharply with the Pharisaic dietary laws.

What is Jesus commanding them when he tells them “go not from house to house”? Is he telling them not to engage in house to house preaching or not to constantly move from living in one house to living in another? Why would he command either of those?

Notice that in verse 9 Jesus commands them to do two things, to heal the sick and to preach that the kingdom of God “approaches” or “comes near.” Some have seen each of these as an attack on Satan’s reign. Can you understand how they might see healing the sick in that way?

How have healing and preaching been related in Jesus’ mission? Are they related in the Book of Mormon? How are they related in the mission of the New Testament 70s? In our own life in the gospel?

What does it mean to say that the kingdom of God is approaching? Does verse the last part of verse 1 give us one way of understanding this? What might be other ways? Is there a difference between preaching that the kingdom or reign is approaching and what the disciples are to teach after the resurrection? In other words, ought we no longer to preach the coming of the kingdom?

What point is Jesus making in verses 10-16? What is the symbolism of wiping the dust of the city from the feet?

Verses 17-20: When the 70 return, what has most impressed them? In verse 18 why does Jesus begin his response to them by saying “I beheld Satan as lightening falling from heaven”? Is he saying something about the success of their mission?

In verse 19 why is the second thing he says to them, “I have given unto you power (or ‘authority’)”? The verb that we translate “have given” could also be translated “have already given.” Is that significant?

In what does Jesus say the 70 should rejoice (verse 20)? Why?

Verses 21-22: For what is Jesus thankful? Explain. Is his use of the word “babes” related to the discussions of children in Matthew 18? Some believe that the words of these verses were used in a hymn in the early church. If they were, how do they apply to the early saints? Is this a song that Latter-day Saints could sing?

Verses 23-24: Previous kings and prophets lived in hope, but the disciples see the fulfillment of their hopes. Why did Jesus tell the disciples this? Why does Luke tell us?

Verses 25-37: The parable of the Good Samaritan is perhaps the most famous of all Jesus’ parables. There are many interesting ways of reading it and more than enough questions to ask to fill several pages. But I will confine myself to a few notes and questions.

In verse 25, the word translated “lawyer” means “Jewish leaders insofar as they are concerned with administering the law.” They could be Sadducees, scribes, or Pharisees, but they were not lawyers in our sense of that word. Indeed, though most Pharisees were deeply concerned with keeping the Law, most were not appointed to administer the law. “Lawyer” here most likely means “Sadducee,” one of the members of the temple priesthood, though Matthew describes him as a Pharisee, and Mark describes him as a scribe.

Luke says a lawyer questioned Jesus, though he could have used one of the other, more specific terms to describe Jewish leaders, such as Sadducee or scribe. Why does Luke use the word “lawyer”?

How is the lawyer’s question a test?

In verse 26 Jesus responds to the question with another question. Why? The lawyer’s answer (verse 27) combines Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus’ response (verse 28) echoes Leviticus 18:5. What does this exchange teach us about the Old Testament?

The word “neighbor” in verse 27 and verse 29 (as well as in the verses that follow) translates a Greek word that means “ones near by.” However, the Hebrew equivalents in the Old Testament are more specific, referring to someone who was a fellow member of the covenant. What is the lawyer asking in verse 29?

What does verse 29 mean when it says that the lawyer was “willing to justify himself”? The word translated “justify” could also be translated “make himself righteous.” Do we ever try to justify ourselves? If so, how do we do it?

The Greek word translated “thieves” is the same word used to describe Barabbas (John 18:40) and the thieves crucified with Christ (Mark 15:27). Is that significant to our interpretation of the story?

A priest would be one of the religious leaders; a Levite, one of those who assisted in the Temple. Why might such a person have seen the wounded man and passed by? Is it likely that the Levite was just insensitive to his problem? The contrast between those who held important positions in Israel and the outcast and hated Samaritan is something no one who heard the parable could have missed. Why do you think Jesus told a story that so explicitly condemned Jewish leaders? Were we to translate this parable into modern terms, who would we substitute for the priest and the Levite? Who would we substitute for the Samaritan? The parable would have shocked Jesus’ listeners. What does the fact that it doesn’t shock us say?

The Greek word translated “compassion” in verse 33 is the same word used in Matthew 18:27. What kind of assistance does the Samaritan offer in verses 34-35? Why is compassion so central to Jesus’ message? How does it figure in our understanding of the gospel? How do we lose site of its centrality? How can we make it central again?

In verse 37, the lawyer seems to be unable to say “the Samaritan,” but as a result he says something more significant. How is what the lawyer said significant?

Ought we to understand this story from the perspective of the wounded man or from the perspective of the Samaritan? What do we learn from each perspective? From what perspective does Jesus tell the story?

In the Old Testament, the word “mercy,” as it is used here, means the attitude that God requires that each human being show to other humans. What does the lawyer’s response teach us about the Samaritan? How does this prefigure the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles? How does the lawyer’s answer in verse 37 differ from his answer in verse 29, or does it? If there is a difference, does that suggest that hearing and thinking about the parable has changed the lawyer in some way? Did Jesus expect parable to change the lawyer? Did he expect it to change someone? If so, who?

How has the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” changed us—or has it? If it hasn’t, why not? What would it take of it to have the kind of change that Jesus intended it to evoke?

Verses 38-42: In the parable that Jesus has just told, the focus is at least partly on the practical response of the Samaritan to the wounded man. How is practical service dealt with in this story? What does the juxtaposition of these two stories teach us? How does this story fit into the theme of the chapter? Why would Martha have been engaged in “much serving”? Could Martha have understood Jesus’ comment to be a remark about the meal she was preparing? How else could she have understood it?

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