Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Sunday School Lesson #20

Posted by Jim F. on June 1, 2007

Lesson 20: Matthew 21-23; John 12:1-8

Matthew 21

Verses 1-7: The end of verse 3 could also be translated “and straightway he will return them.” Verse 5 puts two scriptures together, Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9 (as they appear in the Greek rather than the Hebrew version of the Old Testament). What does “daughter of Sion” mean? Why is it important that the Lord enter Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (rather than a horse, for example)?

Verses 8-11: Why did the people put their cloaks and branches from the trees on the road in front of Jesus? “Hosanna” means “save, we pray.” Do you think that the people were using it because of its meaning or only as a shout of acclamation (much as we use the word “amen” without usually thinking about its meaning)? In Israelite history, who was first called “son of David”? What did that name signify? What does it have to do with the temple? What does it mean to say “all the city was moved [i.e., shaken]”? In the city why do the crowds describe Jesus as “the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” rather than with the Messianic title they have been using?

Verses 12-16: Why does Jesus go to the temple immediately? In order to offer sacrifice, people had to be able to buy animals for sacrifice–in particular, the poor had to be able to buy the doves that they used for offerings—and they had to exchange their money for the temple money that was used for offerings. Scholars assume that the animal sales and money exchange occurred in the Court of the Gentiles, an outer court of the Temple into which any person could enter. Since selling doves and changing money were necessary to the function of the Temple and since it occurred outside of the sacred part of the Temple, why did Jesus drive out the money changers and the dove-sellers? Jesus combines two Old Testament passages: Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11. What do Jesus’ actions show about his authority? To whom do you think Jesus refers when he uses the word “thieves”? Many believe that he is speaking of the high priest and those who rule with him. How might they justify that opinion? The word “thief” is a strong one, comparable to “armed robber.” (It is not the same word that John uses to describe Judas in John 12:6.) Josephus uses it to describe the Zealots and others who waged armed conflict with Rome. Why is it the right word in this case? Is Jesus’ use of the word here related to his use of the word in John 10:1? What happens in a cave to which armed robbers retreat? What is Jesus saying that those he condemns here have done to the Temple? In verse 15 why does Matthew describe the crowds acclaiming Jesus as children? Why don’t the chief priests and scribes say anything about Jesus’ cleansing of the Court of the Gentiles? What do you think they mean when they say to Jesus “Hearest thou what these say?” (verse 16)? Jesus answers them by quoting Psalm 8:3 (the Greek translation). The word translated “perfected” means “completed,” but it connotes restoration, putting something back as it was. How have the crowds “perfected praise”?

Verses 17-22: Why do you think Jesus returns to Bethany for the night? Why is Jesus surprised to find no figs on the tree? Of what might the tree by symbolic? Why doesn’t Jesus explain the symbolism of the fig tree? Why is the lesson he teaches using this incident important to his disciples at this point in his ministry?

Verses 23-27: Why do the chief priests and elders wait until the next day to question Jesus’ authority to do what he has done? Does Jesus respect the authority of those who question him about his authority? Why can’t they answer his question? Why doesn’t he answer their question?

After this confrontation with the chief priests and scribes, Jesus tells them three parables, that of two sons, one obedient and one disobedient, that of the wicked husbandman, and that of the king’s son’s marriage (Matthew 22:1-14). As you read those parables, ask what Jesus was trying to teach the priests and scribes. Also ask yourself what the common theme of these parables is.

Verses 28-32: To whom does Jesus compare the first son? the second? How do you think the chief priests and scribes responded when Jesus said “The tax-collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you”? How did he explain that? Verse 32 says that John taught how to become righteous (he “came unto you in the way of righteousness”). In what did righteousness consist according to John? What have the chief priests and scribes ignored?

Verses 33-44: Compare verse 33 to Isaiah 5:2. What does the vineyard represent in the Isaiah passage? Does it represent the same thing here? Who do the servants in the parable represent? the son? What is the irony of verse 41? What does the Joseph Smith Translation add to our understanding of these verses?

Matthew 22

Verses 1-14: Why does Jesus tell the chief priests and scribes, a group that probably also included Pharisees, three parables rather than just one? What does this third parable add that we have not seen in the previous two? In the context of these parables, what does “many are called, but few are chosen” mean? Is that meaning different here than it is in other places where we see the same phrase, such as D&C 121:40?

Verses 15-22: Why would Matthew’s audience have been shocked by the coalition of Pharisees and Herodians? (To learn about the Herodians, see the Bible Dictionary, page 701.) What would the Herodians have thought about the tax (a poll or head tax) in question? How about the Pharisees? What position does verse 16 suggest that they think Jesus will take? When Jesus asks them whose image is on the coin (verse 20), what point is he making about the coin? Does Jesus answer the question he has been asked?

Verses 23-33: Now the Sadducees come to question Jesus. Luke describes them as the party of the high priest (Acts 5:17). Though most Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, the primary difference between them and the other parties was that they thought that Israel should be ruled by the priesthood, in other words, by them. The various overlapping political parties of Jesus’ day fought with each other about many things, such as the right relation of Judea to Rome and what was included in the Law, but they agreed in their antipathy to Jesus. Why did they agree on that? What might their agreement teach us about ourselves? Does Jesus give his listeners any way to decide what belongs to Caesar and what to God? What is the point of his teaching in these verses?

Verses 34-39: The confrontation with the ruling powers continues. How is the Pharisees’ question a trial or test of Jesus? If we can infer from what we know of later rabbinic teaching and the teaching of Jesus’ day, the rabbis (“scribes” in the New Testament) taught that there were 613 commandments in the Law, 248 positive commandments, and 365 negative ones. They ranked these commandments in terms of their greatness or heaviness. Do you think they would have disagreed with Jesus about which commandment is the greatest or heaviest (Deuteronomy 6:5)? Why does Jesus continue the discussion by answering a question that the Pharisees have not asked, “Which is the second greatest commandment?” What does he mean when he says that the second commandment (Leviticus 19:18) is “like unto” the first? What does the phrase “the law and the prophets” mean? Is Jesus referring to the parts of Jewish scripture designated as “the Law” or Torah and “the Prophets” or is he using the phrase in another way? What does it mean to say that the law and the prophets hang or are suspended from these two commandments?

Verses 41-46: The series of confrontations ends with Jesus questioning the Pharisees. Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 and poses a problem for them to solve. We can read the text as saying “Yahweh said to the Messiah, ‘Sit on my right hand.'” What is the problem and why can’t they solve it? What is Jesus trying to show by giving the Pharisees a problem that they cannot solve?

Matthew 23

Where does this sermon occur? Does Jesus deliver any other public sermons between this one and his death? Why do you think he makes hypocrisy the topic of his last sermon?

Verses 1-12: What do you think “the seat of Moses” means? What does Jesus mean when he tells the people to do what the scribes and Pharisees tell them, but not to do what they do? What does he say motivates the scribes’ and Pharisees’ obedience? The word “rabbi” means “my master.” Why does Jesus tell them not to use that title (verse 8)? What does it mean that he tells them also not to use the title “father” or the title “teacher” (“master” in the King James translation)? What title or titles are they to use (verse 8)? How do the permitted titles differ from the forbidden ones? Does Jesus’ injunction to the disciples suggest anything about our own practices? How, for example, can we justify some of the titles we use in the church or in our society at large if we accept these verses?

Verses 13-36: Jesus pronounces seven woes on the scribes and Pharisees. Why doesn’t he include the Herodians or Sadducees—or does he? How do the scribes and Pharisees shut up (i.e., lock up) the kingdom of heaven? Is he saying anything about priesthood keys? What do they lock up? (Compare Luke 11:52.) What parallel might we find in our own lives?

Though after the destruction of the Temple in 70, the Jews no longer proselyted, there is evidence that they were actively proselyting at the time of Christ. What might verse 15 condemn? Do we ever do anything like that?

What problem does Jesus identify in verses 16-22, the third woe? Is there a contemporary equivalent? What practice does Jesus criticize in verses 23-24? How is this condemnation connected to his teaching in Matthew 22:39-40?

The fifth and sixth woes (verses 25-26 and 27-28) are similar in structure. What is their point? How would we avoid the sin that Jesus describes in them? Remember that dead things were considered impure, so anything that touched them was impure. That means that the interior of a tomb was an impure as anything could be.

The concluding woe (verses 29-36) is the longest of the seven. What does Jesus condemn in it and why does he keep it for last and make it longest? What does it mean to say that they witness themselves that they are descended from prophet-killers (verse 31)? How is that relevant to Jesus’ situation? Explain what verse 32 means. What does Jesus mean when he says that the blood of the righteous from Abel to Zechariah will come on them (verse 35)? (In the Hebrew Bible, the first victim of murder mentioned was Abel and Zechariah—2 Chronicles 24:20-22—was the last. We no longer arrange the books in the order that was used at Jesus’ time.) When would early Christians have thought this prophecy had been fulfilled? (Consider verse 36.)

What is the point of verse 37? Does it teach anything that applies to us? How does verse 38 explain prophecies such as that in Jeremiah 22:5? When will Israel see Jesus again (verse 39)?

John 12:1-8

Verses 1-3: Do you see any significance in the fact that this dinner is given for Jesus seven days before his death and resurrection, probably on Friday evening, at the beginning of the Sabbath? Why does John remind us that Bethany is where Lazarus was raised from the dead? After all, he has just finished telling us the story. Why is it important to John that he tell us what roles Mary and Martha played at the dinner? How is this story related to the two earlier stories that involve these two women? Does the fact that Martha served at this dinner help us understand better the story in which Jesus remonstrated her for being troubled about many things in her serving (Luke 10:38-42)? The custom seems to have been to anoint the head of a guest with oil (though sometimes feet were anointed after being washed), but Mary and the Galilean woman (Luke 7:38) each anoint Jesus’s feet (rather than wash them), and they dry his feet with their hair rather than a towel. The work of washing feet was a servant’s job and it was unseemly for a respectable Jewish woman to let her hair down in public. What is the symbolic significance of what Mary does? The the literal significance of “the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” is obvious. What is its symbolic significance?

Verses 4-8: Isn’t Judas’s objection a reasonable one? Would it have been reasonable if Judas had been a person of good character? We could restate verse 6 loosely in this way: “Judas did not say this because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief and was in charge of the disciples’ money.” Does John give one reason or two for Judas’s complaint? Does he intend us to remember John 10:1 or 8 when he describes Judas as a thief? Why was it important for Jesus to explain the symbolic significance of Mary’s act to his disciples? What are we to make of Jesus’ paraphrase of Deuteronomy 15:11: “The poor always ye have with you”? Over and over again we have seen Jesus’ love for those who are excluded from the community, those the Pharisees called sinners, most of whom would have been poor. Does what he says here contradict that love and concern?

Verses 9-11: Do you see symbolic significance in the fact that the Jewish leaders want to kill the person whom Jesus has raised from the dead?

24 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson #20”

  1. Todd Wood said

    Jim, I am almost embarrased to ask this personal question. But I have read Vern Swanson lately. Do LDS wives wash the feet of their husbands in preparation for burial?

    • Lori said

      This is a reference to the 2nd anointing. It was done in the early part of this dispensation. It isn’t as much a part of burial, as a part of that ceremony.

  2. Jim F. said

    Todd Wood: I don’t think I’ve ever read Vern Swanson. None of the LDS wives I know who are widowed washed the feet of their husbands in preparation for burial.

  3. brianj said

    “The poor always ye have with you.” I read that as an accusation, though I understand that was not Jesus’ intent.

  4. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, I think a case can indeed be made that there is an accusatory undertone to Jesus’ remark. For details, see here, my paragraph “more on the poor” and the link to Julie’s post on “Ye have the poor with you always.” I’m not sure it’s a particularly strong case, but interesting to think about….

  5. BrianJ said

    Robert: thanks for pointing me to your post (and other links). I had missed that (been away for a while). I feel better with my hunch: there clearly are some elements of accusation.

  6. John Kilford said

    Re: Matt 21:43
    Who or what other “given to a(nother) nation” is the Saviour referring to?

  7. brianj said

    John Kilford: I take the “nation” to be a generic reference to the gentiles, not to any one nation in particular.

  8. Rebecca L said

    “odor of the ointment” reminds me of Ex. 29:18 “sweet savor” of the sacrifices of atonement. Phil. 4:18 also mentions this “odor of sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.”

    Maybe it is the link with sacrifices smoke/cloud & incense that reminds me also of Solomon and the dedication of the temple when the “cloud filled the house”. (1Kings 7:10) Maybe it is just too late at night! :)

  9. cherylem said

    Jim (or anyone),
    Regarding 22:15-40

    I know you hate to give answers, but . . .

    how do you answer the question on marriage in heaven relating to LDS doctrine?

  10. Jim F. said

    cherylem: I honestly don’t know. I haven’t found any of the conventional answers very satisfactory. They seem to me to misconstrue what Jesus says.

  11. cherylem said

    Thanks. I couldn’t come up with an explanation either. It is what it is.

    now, regarding 22:41-46 you write:
    What is the problem and why can’t they solve it? What is Jesus trying to show by giving the Pharisees a problem that they cannot solve?

    I’ve been thinking about this as I am teaching this lesson on Sunday. Why couldn’t they solve this problem? Would giving the correct answer mean they had to accept at least the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah?

    Why do you think they couldn’t answer it?

  12. BrianJ said

    Well, I’m sort of relieved to hear that Jim F and Cherylem both have difficulty with Matthew 22:15-40, because I don’t get it either (and I’m about as smart as their little fingers). The closest I could come to an explanation that didn’t really force or totally ignore Jesus’ words was to say, “Jesus was not talking about eternal marriage; he was talking about resurrection.” In other words, let’s dodge the issue.

    Why isn’t there a JST for these verses?! I think of all the JSTs that seem rather trivial, or ones that merely clarify a Greek or Hebrew phrase, but this passage seems to cry out for explanation. Now, maybe there is a JST for this section, but it is in the longer edition (which I do not own). Does the absence of a JST mean Joseph was actually ‘comfortable’ with this passage? (I realize that that question comes with loads of assumptions.)

    I wonder if Jim or Cheryl (or others) has read anything about the story in the Apocrypha about a woman with seven different husbands—a story Jesus may have had in mind when he said, “You do err, not having understood the scriptures….” (since the Sadducees did not accept the prophetic writings).

  13. Jim F. said

    Cherylem: The question that Jesus asks is so typical of the kind of thing that one would expect a rabbi to ask his students in the rabbinic period (after 70). Surely it was the kind of thing that those schooled in the tradition, as the Pharisees were, should have been able to answer. How can David refer to the Son of David as “My Lord?”

    Since there had been and would yet be numerous messiahes, perhaps Jesus is asking this question to point out the extraordinary character of the true Messiah: he is not just any old revolutionary. Perhaps the Pharisees cannot answer his question because it would require them to be specific about how they understand the Messiah, which would then open them to having to deal with Jesus’ implicit (at that point ) claim to that he is.

    BrianJ, as far as I can tell, there’s no JST for the verses that are bothering us right now. I don’t recall the story you refer to, but I would like to make a minor note: we know very little about the Sadducees because everything that we know about them has come down from either the Christians or the Pharisees, i.e., the rabbis. We are sure they did not believe in resurrection, but I don’t think we can be sure about much more. So, even though Josephus tells us that they accepted only the Books of Moses, that may be his confused way of telling us that they rejected the oral tradition, i.e., the teachings of the Pharisees. Since there was no such thing as a canon of scripture in those days (except for the Books of Moses), it is difficult to know what books any particular group or individual accepted as scripture–a category that was itself very fuzzy.

  14. Matthew said

    Cherylem (#11),
    >Would giving the correct answer mean they had to accept at least the possibility that Jesus was the Messiah?

    Here’s one possible answer that would suggest yes. The Son of David was a title for the Messiah used with the implication that the Messiah in the tradition of David–a conquering king. It is used in the New Testament but never by Jesus (Matt 9:26; Matt 15:22; Matt 22:31; Matt 12:23; Matt 21:9) because (the theory goes) he rejects this title to reject the implicit role.

    So when Jesus asks them about a scripture that contradicts the idea of Jesus as the son of david, the pharisees recognize this for what it is: an attempt to use this psalm to remove the messiah from the role of david conquering king which opens up the possibility for Jesus (who clearly wasn’t a conquering king) to fill the role of Messiah. The pharisees don’t have another way to reconcile the messiah-as-son-of-david with the messiah-as-lord-of-david so, rather than follow Jesus’s lead and de-prioritize the messiah-as-son-of-david, they leave the question unanswered.

    I admit it is a bit of a stretch….

    FYI, I took someof the thinking from this quote. i have no clue who the writer David Strauss really was and I don’t particularly like the whole project he’s on, but I do like his explanation of the titles “Son of Man” “Son of David” and “Son of God.”

  15. Robert C. said

    Re the JST for Matt 22:23ff, I don’t know my Church history very well, can anyone give me a time line of when Joseph Smith was working on the JST relative to when the revelation on eternal marriage occurred? I’m wondering if the JST was “done” before Joseph Smith knew anything about eternal marriage.

    At any rate: I think this is one of the typical explanations that Jim is probably referring to, but I’d be inclined to say that there’s not technically a problem because Jesus is only saying that resurrected beings can’t marry (or be given in marriage, like a daughter is given in marriage, not that marriage-by-proxy can’t be done—I assumed this reading b/c “given in marriage” is how you would commonly talk about a woman being married in Russian, so I was glad to see that this is also how Hagner reads this in the Word Biblical Commentary…).
    That is, it seems almost peculiar (to my very non-Greek-trained ears…) that Jesus doesn’t simply say no angels are married, but simply that angels do not marry. This, then, would actually sets the stage for the need of marriage by proxy, resurrected being can’t do this themselves.

    Another view I’ve vacillated between is that Jesus is specifically referring to resurrected angels in the same sense that D&C 132:16 is using the term:

    Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

  16. […] comments cherylem on Jesus enters Jerusalem: Lesson 20Robert C. on Sunday School Lesson #20cherylem on Harry Potter vs. Joseph SmithMatthew on Sunday School Lesson #20Matthew on Harry Potter […]

  17. cherylem said

    #12 Brianj,
    The apocryphal story is related here . . . it comes and goes throughout Tobit, starting with 3:7


    I think the point is that while Sarah was married to 7 husbands (none of whom she had relations with because they all died on the wedding night) she was actually meant for and belonged to husband #8.

    if this story relates to Matthew, I think it mostly shows the deep sarcasm of the question by the Sadduccees.

  18. I just checked the JST manuscripts, and they show absolutely no hint of a change. Joseph “finished” the JST in 1833, and he does not seem to have mentioned celestial marriage at all until about 1835, when he married Newell Whitney to an undivorced girl illegally. And then “celestial marriage” was hardly the phrase invoked, but there was at least the implication that the priesthood had some sort of overriding power to bind, etc. Plural marriage was, of course, mentioned still earlier, to W. W. Phelps and one other (Benjamin Johnson, maybe?) in 1832, and there is reason to suggest that Joseph received much of D&C 132 while he was working on the Genesis text in the JST project in 1831. He worked on Matthew in 1831-2.

    But the point of all the above is just this: the JST gives us nothing to go on. I take it Joseph had no problem with what Jesus says.

    I’ve actually been thinking about this lately (it was raised for me for several reasons), and in terms of two quite different philosophers. On the one hand, I think Michel Henry gives a nice reading of it in I Am the Truth, a reading that Latter-day Saints can hardly get around, I think, and one that would appear not at all to mesh well with our thinking. On the other hand, Jacques Lacan’s quite (in)famous statement, “There is no such thing as a sexual relationship,” might provide us a good place to start thinking about what is meant here. I don’t pretend to be a Lacan expert at all, but a little explanation is in order, and maybe we can cajole Adam Miller into coming and explaining his take on this passage, since he has been working pretty consistently on questions of eternal marriage lately, etc.

    Lacan, of course, essentially linguisticizes Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, and as such he provides a linguistically structured reading of gender that is profoundly interesting (on at least one reading, Lacan’s entire point has been obscured by the translation of some of his most important texts on the subject into English, found in a volume entitled Feminine Sexuality). In short, and I really mean in short, Lacan understands gender as we understand it to be structured by lack, desire, or lust. Lacan suggests that where there is no lack, desire, or lust, there is, by definition, no gender (regardless of the biological realities). And since gender as structured by lack, desire, or lust can never engage the other by definition, genders cannot engage each other at all (Lacan says that males by definition only have a sexual relation to the cause of desire, and that females by definition only have a sexual relation to a primary signifier). Hence, since all (and this is Lacan’s presupposition) sexual relations are defined by lack, desire, or lust, there is no such thing as a sexual relationship.

    But I think Lacan’s thinking points to the possibility of a spiritual relationship that, at least in a structural sense, outstrips gendered sexuality, though he never discusses this possibility to my knowledge. And I think Paul’s theology gives us a way of thinking about gender as recast typologically in charity/the Spirit, so that we maintain gender (as in the Proclamation to the World) and yet without gender.

    Wow, that is so terse… but I think there is something to it. Adam?

  19. brianj said

    Jim F: Thanks for helping my understanding of the Sadducees.

    Cheryl: Thanks for posting the link to the Apocryphal story. That is the one I was thinking about, but I couldn’t remember where to find it.

    Joe: Thanks for the time line. Help me understand what you write about Lacan: is the point that when Jesus talks about marriage, he’s actually speaking euphemistically about sexual desire? In other words, the Sadducees were trying to trick him into talking about sex in heaven (which would sound obscene in the crowds’ ears), and Jesus brushes it aside by saying that resurrected bodies are pure like the angels.

    Robert C: I think the “technical problem” I have with #15 is somewhat off subject, but if there is no way for a resurrected person to be married, I have concerns for all the many people who died without any chance of marriage (such as children, for an extreme example).

  20. Joe Spencer said

    Brian, understand “sexual relationship” to mean “gendered relationship” (“sex” as in “gender,” hence “sexual” as in “gendered”), though I wouldn’t wander too far from the wonderful ambiguities at work in the language here (consummation is, after all, a technical requirement of law for full marriage even today.)

    But in a word, no, not that He’s speaking euphemistically, but that there is something beyond what any Sadducee would have meant by “marriage” (we would call it “celestial marriage” or “sealing,” but we must recognize that it is not at all like an earthly or terrestrial marraige)…

  21. BrianJ said

    Joe: I was thinking more that sex:gender :: sexed:gendered, not sexual:gendered, so I didn’t exactly get the point. Your clarification really helps. I’ll have to think about the point a bit more, but I can already say that I agree with this statement: “there is something beyond what any Sadducee would have meant by ‘marriage’.”

  22. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #19, I’m not sure if I understand what you’re saying/asking—I was trying to say that those who are not married (whether in the temple or not) before they die, can only be married if a temple ordinance is performed for them by proxy. So, resurrected beings per se aren’t married or given in marriage; rather, it is their proxies that are being married and given in marriage (at least in some technical, physical sense)—thus angels can be married, they just can’t do the marrying themselves. Angels can be married (passive voice), but they can’t marry (active voice) or be given in marriage (passive voice only because women don’t marry in an active voice sense even as mortals…).

    At any rate, I’m leaning away from this view and toward the latter view I tried to express since D&C 132:16 takes up the exact same phrase (“neither marry nor are given in marriage”). Something like: angels neither marry nor are given in marriage because once they are married they cease existing as angels and become gods.

  23. Matthew said

    Robert (22), I’m thinking about both possibilities you are looking at. As I see it these are: (a) marriage can’t be performed on resurrected beings, (b) angels aren’t married because then by definition they aren’t angels.

    The problem I have with both is that in that case the question re-appears as to which man this woman will be married to in the resurrection. If you take Jesus’s statement as a denial that anyone is married after death then clearly he is answering the question of the Sadduccees. Answer: none of them. Obvioulsy, we are looking for an alternate reading to one that denies any marriages are eternal (as we should be), but to me any reading which doesn’t explain Jesus’s answer as an answer to the Sadduccees question will seem forced.

    I would love a better answer. Currently my answer to the question of how to make sense of this is simply “I don’t know.”

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