On Outcasts, Modern Pharisees, and Luke
Mormons (I among them) believe that there is a God, there is truth and untruth, and that there is right and wrong. It is not true that anything goes, that whatever a person thinks is fine, or that whatever comes natural is acceptable. We believe that God gives us commandments and that he does so out of kind, fatherly love, for our happiness and well-being. We believe that goodness and blessings follow adherence to his commandments and that more difficulty and misery than we might otherwise have to face follows non-compliance. (Mormons believe that adversity is necessary to freedom of choice and is an essential ingredient in life’s purpose to help us learn and grow—therefore even the most strictly compliant with God’s laws are not exempt from cancer, boating accidents, hunger, temptation, depression, the evil choices of other people, etc.)
But there is a problem. Or, at least, there could be if we are not careful. People who recognize right choices and wrong choices (even if they do so accurately) and who consistently make right choices may be particularly subject to the temptation of seeing themselves as good and others as (to paraphrase Megamind) less good. They may even see themselves as, gulp, “righteous”; and others as unrighteous. Ironically, they may judge, as the scriptures say not to do, unrighteously. Worse, they may refuse to accept and even to associate with those they see as, gulp again, “sinners.”
Yielding to such temptations would be an awful, tragic, mistake. Worse. It would be purely un-Christian. It would be such an incredible departure from the teachings of the Savior as to beg the question of whether the person (and I must ask: Lord, is it I?) really knows the Savior at all.
So, by way of reminder (or, perhaps, introduction), here are 22 moments during the Savior’s ministry – and these are just the ones captured by Luke! (there are others) – in which the Savior teaches acceptance and understanding for people of all kinds; he teaches to love the outcast; to love the sinner in spite of his sins. He doesn’t teach us to embrace sin or to condone people’s poor choices. And he doesn’t teach us to fail to judge between right choices and wrong choices. But in these examples, he associates closely with everyone from the most-looked-down-upon to those who were greatest in their own self-righteous eyes. Whether people were physically, mentally, or spiritually ill… whether they were sinners or strict observers of the commandments… whether they were feared or despised… he didn’t just love them from a distance; he loved them from a closeness. We must follow his example.
May we never let anyone be an outcast. And may we eschew Pharisaic judgment. “Two men went up to the temple to pray….” Let us be the one with clear and true vision. I hope these scripture references are helpful.
- Luke 4:18 — To heal the brokenhearted
- Luke 5:27-32 — With Matthew, the publican. And: “They that are whole…”
- Luke 6:20-26 — Blessed are the uncomfortable; cursed the comfortable.
- Luke 6:32:34 — If ye do good to them which do good to you…
- Luke 6:37 — Judge not, condemn not, forgive.
- Luke 6:41-42 — When thou beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye.
- Luke 6:46 — You don’t know the Lord if you’re not kind to the outcast.
- Luke 7:36-50 — Simon the Pharisee and the sinful woman.
- Luke 9:46:48 — Receive the least in order to receive Him.
- Luke 10:29-37 — The good (and despised) Samaritan.
- Luke 11:37 — Jesus dines with Pharisees (and not just publicans and sinners).
- Luke 14:7-11 — Whosoever exalteth himself.
- Luke 14:12-14 — Invite the outcasts.
- Luke 14:15-24 — Bring in the outcasts.
- Luke 15:3-7 — The parable of the lost sheep.
- Luke 15:8-10 — The parable of the lost coin.
- Luke 15:11-32 — The parable of the prodigal son.
- Luke 18:9-14 — Unto certain which trusted that they were righteous.
- Luke 18:22 — Yet lackest thou one thing.
- Luke 19:1-10 — Zacchaeus the publican. This day is salvation…
- Luke 22:24-27 — Which of them should be accounted the greatest.
- Luke 23:39-43 — Today thou shalt be with me.
Lovely Brown Icons
This week I just want to quickly share my excitement over the incredibly simple and important tools now available on familysearch.org. Two new views were recently added which show either a traditional director-ancestor pedigree (“landscape view”) or up to four ancestors of descendants and their spouses (“descendancy view”). But that isn’t the exciting part. The exciting part is that four different icons may appear, if needed, next to each of the names in each of these two views:
- temple icons (various colors) indicate that temple work may need to be done or has been reserved;
- brown icons indicate that vital records exist which can be matched to the person to support the facts of their lives, including their relationships;
- blue icons indicate that the known facts of that person have left a gap of some kind to be explored;
- and red icons indicate that the known facts for that person are illogical, as when a person’s marriage date is earlier than their birth date (thankfully, I don’t see too many of these in my family tree).
As excitement has spread among familysearch.org users about using the temple icons in these views to try to quickly find more names to bring to the temple (talk about low-hanging fruit!), I have become perhaps even more excited about the brown icons that help me match my ancestors (and their descendants) to vital records which support their life facts and relationships. I’m not sure how long it would take me to clear all the brown icons in my family tree. I would guess that if I did it full-time for a year at 40 hours a week, I might get it done in a year. Since I don’t have that much time for it, I’m chipping away at it for about one hour a week and am inviting family members to jump in.
This is the gift that keeps on giving. By tying vital records to the records in my tree, I am verifying the accuracy of the tree–and doing so in a way for all to see who will ever share my interest in these same people. It’s much easier to press ahead with researching new people to the add to the tree when you feel confident that the people already in the tree are the right ones!
Now, I will admit that my family history work may be much easier than others’. All four of my grandparents’s lines come from England, where records are plentiful–and in English. Nevertheless, I think we have shifted very rapidly from a time when genealogical research was truly difficult and time-consuming to a time in which much can be easily accomplished in very little time. It reminds me of Alma’s and Nephi’s references to “the easiness of the way.” My desire is that more people will find the happiness and motivation that I find every time I interact with the “Spirit of Elijah” when I engage in family history work.
Some screen shots:
On Trust, Patience, Lilies, and Peace
Life is hard. I doubt there’s much debate over that. I am in awe of those for whom life is exceptionally hard. As Father Zosima (in “The Brothers Karamazov”) did to Dmitri out of respect for Dmitri’s suffering, I sometimes feel to bow to those who experience life’s more profound hardships.
It is easier, I think, to speak of the Lord’s peace (“not as the world giveth, give I unto you”) and of placing our trust in Him (“trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding”) when life is, for whatever reason, not as hard for us as it is for others. But what about when you’re the one facing any number of very difficult things: an ominous health diagnosis, betrayal from a spouse, same-sex attraction, a disabled child, a rebellious child, joblessness, rejection, depression, poverty, etc.
Nevertheless—and without being dismissive of the enormity of those challenges (as the word “nevertheless” might suggest)—the Savior’s message to us is that He will, in fact, give rest to those who are “heavy laden.” (In one sense, “heavy laden” is relative, with some thinking they’re heavy laden even while, in fact, they have it much easier than others; while in another legitimate sense, we are surely all “heavy laden.”)
“Take my yoke upon you,” He said, “and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The phrase “take my yoke upon you” means two things to me. First, get after it; head up, chin up, and keep going. If we’re going to be yoked together, we’ll need to do push as best we can. Second, trust Him to do His part. A key to the scripture is in the phrase “learn of me.” The more we become acquainted with Christ and with his attributes and motives, the easier it is to place our trust in Him. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Coming to know him better should be an active life-long pursuit for all of us.
The Savior also taught us to not worry about worldly things and things that we just don’t need to fret over right now. For “which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” On the other hand, “Consider the lilies” and the Lord’s willingness to take care of us who are “much better than” even those beautiful and perfectly obedient lilies.
No matter how much of a struggle we get into, it is always made worse by losing our perspective: when we decide our poor circumstances are permanent; when we doubt God’s existence (or at least His caring) because our troubles persist and He does not seem to respond to our requests to make them go away; when we believe that we must handle things on our own when we, in fact, can’t; etc. Such false ideas accentuate stress and lead to despair. They tend to lead us toward both giving up in our efforts and distrusting God—two things that will prevent us from finding rest for our souls.
I am reminded frequently of the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” How much we need to remember that!
I am also reminded of one of my favorite short verses of scripture (if only I could apply it better!): “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
Get to know God, trust Him, work, and be patient. This is part of living after the manner of happiness. And surely leads to the rest we seek.
On Purpose, Discipleship, Influence, and Success
Preach My Gospel, written primarily for full-time missionaries, says a missionary’s purpose is to “Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” Sounds good—and I agree. But I wonder if that is really the purpose of just missionaries or if it shouldn’t have much broader application. Isn’t that the purpose of a disciple?
The Savior was speaking to twelve special disciples when he admonished them to continue to minister to people who were struggling. He said, “unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”
This scripture indicates a special relationship between these disciples and Jesus—but perhaps that same relationship extends—or should extend—to all disciples. Disciples are to minister to individuals in a way that help them come to the Savior. He is clearly the one who will—and the only one who truly can—heal them. Nevertheless, disciples may “be the means” of bringing the patients to the physician.
Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon, Nephi addresses a similar topic. Speaking of the Savior, he says, “Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.”
“His people” are to “persuade” others—all others, in fact—to come partake of the “free” salvation he offers. Note that persuasion is cited as an important attribute for exercising priesthood power. “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;…” Note also that the invitation, or rather, commandment, to persuade others toward the Savior is intended for “his people,” a reference that seems to encompass more than just full-time missionaries or special disciples.
On a related note, we also learn from Preach My Gospel how to measure success. “Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.” Or in other words, your success is measured, not by the choices other people make, but by the commitment you and I have (and, I’m sure, exhibit) toward pursuing our purpose of inviting others to come to the Savior.
Encouraging people to come to the Savior is the goal. Our level of sincere commitment and resulting effort to so doing is the measure of our success. Influence should be sought and exercised—in the Savior’s kind, loving, respectful way, of course. Like wealth, influence is a good thing if used the right way, but unlike wealth, we are specifically commanded to acquire and use it.
What do we think of the concept of surrender? It doesn’t sound overly attractive at first glance, yet I continue to come across references to its importance for our well-being. And I agree with them. Life would be better if most of us would surrender a little more often. Let me give three examples.
First, surrender is a well-established, critical element of addiction recovery. If you think addiction recovery is irrelevant to you (“I’m not an addict!”), I would ask you to reconsider. King Benjamin asked the question, “Are we not all beggars?” And, of course, the answer is that none of us may be saved without the Savior and so we are, indeed, all beggars. Similarly, most of us have habits we struggle to break or particular vices we return to again and again, even if smallish. Are we not all addicts? Anyway, go google “addiction surrender,” and you’ll quickly find things like this:
“Surrender is the foundation and ground upon which recovery is built.” This is because many addictions result from fighting (by seeking relief from some emotional pain through chemical or sexual experience) and one cannot continue that fight and win. Hence the first of the twelve steps from AA is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” And the third step is, “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” Surrender. All of us should surrender also.
Second, I’ve been reading a lot lately about anxiety. Also been listening to Claire Weekes discuss her theory about “Pass-Through Panic.” She talks about “first fear” and “second fear,” with first fear being normal, but in many of us immediately compounded by second fear when we fear the first fear and trick ourselves into a panic by fearing fear. The “panic trick” is “the idea that a person is just barely holding himself together, and that if he relaxes his grip even a little, he will fall apart. In fact, it’s his struggling to keep a grip that maintains the anxiety!”
The answer—or, at least, Dr. Weekes’ answer (but it strikes me as valid because it matches my own first-hand experience so well)—is to understand and accept the frightful feelings we experience and to surrender to them (rather than fight them) by letting them pass through us as little hindered as possible. It’s a bit like having more success in an encounter with a bear by playing dead than by taking on the bear. Surrender leads to a better outcome.
Lastly, and most importantly, is the idea of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The Savior will, in fact, save us, but He won’t save everyone—and perhaps not even you and I if we don’t qualify. To qualify, we must have the sacrifice he requires from us: that of a broken heart and contrite spirit. If that does not accompany the covenants that can bind us to Him, then they won’t bind us to Him. Having a broken heart and contrite spirit means surrendering my will to His. It is giving up on trying to live life my way on my terms and surrendering to His will. It is recognizing when my will does not match His and then humbly and willingly accepting not just defeat in that singular contest of wills, but a sincere willingness to never engage in the contest again.
When a person commits a significant sin, he can fight against God by covering, excusing, justifying, hiding, continuing, getting angry, etc. Or he can surrender, by becoming transparent, admitting wrong, and giving into God’s way of living—not just in areas related to the particular sin—not just by ceasing that sin—but by trying to align his whole life with God’s will. He must surrender the losing battle of trying to succeed his own way.
The Savior never taught us to be someone else’s doormat. He never taught us that we should forgo exercising our precious gift of agency. He did teach us, though, that we should choose to surrender our will in exchange for His will. He promises us everything—literally—in exchange. “Everything” includes a great deal of happiness.
Surrender, when done right and sincerely, is, in fact, a key element of living after the manner of happiness.