Showing posts with label New Testament. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Testament. Show all posts

Holy Week: Resurrection

Touch Me Not, Minerva K. Teichert

Mary Magdalene is among my favorite women in all of scripture. She is blessed with a personal interaction with the resurrected Christ that any disciple would love to have, as told in John 20:

 11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The Greek in verse 17 properly translated from Greek doesn't mean to refrain from touching me yet. It is better rendered as "Hold me not," to refrain from holding me, which you are already doing. Mary Magdalene threw her arms around the Savior, greeted him enthusiastically and without restraint. She had received an undeniable witness of the Resurrection not just with her eyes, but with her own hands. She was the first person after the death of Christ to have such a witness.

She was not the only one to receive such a witness ahead of the apostles. There were multiple women who then saw Jesus after their interactions with the angels at the garden tomb. From Matthew 28:

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

These women also received an undeniable witness by touching Christ. They could not know with a greater certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When they did as they were instructed by the angels, to tell the Twelve what they had seen and experienced, the Twelve didn't believe them. They did not trust the women as reliable sources of truth.

From Mark:

 9 Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

From Luke:

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

And because of that refusal to listen to the women in their lives, the women who were closest to Christ and who had received that witness before them, they had to wait until they got all the way to Galilee to see him. Which really is incomprehensible when you consider that he walked with them to on the road to Emmaus and none of them recognized him. He had to baby step them into being able to see him, then cajole them by eating something in front of them, and eventually break down what they were seeing for them in scriptural terms for them to finally receive the witness, the truth the women already had. (See Luke 24:12-48)

In almost two thousand years, this has not changed as much as it should have by now.

Believe women. Believe our words. Believe in the power of our faith. Believe in the gifts and talents God has given to us. Believe in our potential. Believe in our ministries. Believe our leadership. Believe in us the same way Christ believes in and trusts us.

What happens to church that dishonor and disgrace their women by withholding this love and trust from them?

They have the fullness of truth and power withheld from them, their access to Christ curtailed, the same way the Twelve did. And in the Book of Mormon, Ether 12 explains why:

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

It's not just faith in God that matters. It's also the faith we have in ourselves and in each other. When that faith falters, no one can help us, not even the perfected and resurrected Christ. If we want to be in a condition where Jesus Christ CAN help us, it requires us to confront and dismantle our own unconscious biases, the disrespect and prejudice we hold for other people. There is no room for any of that in the kingdom of God, and that spiritual deprivation begins here and now, on Earth. It will last as long as it takes us to do the work to overcome that way of thinking.

Where is the power of Jesus Christ on this earth today? It's in many places. Wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever there is faith in the future, wherever there are sincere souls who see wrongs and are trying to make them right, there is Christ. And it stands to reason, and shouldn't go without saying, that the power of Jesus Christ is in the hands and hearts of women.

What does learning the lessons of the past, the lessons in the ministry of Jesus Christ this Easter?

Among many of the valuable lessons that others will teach today, let this one be included: Believe, and believe in, the women who serve him.

Holy Week: The Tomb

Image of the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

The Biblical record tells of what happened to the body of Christ after the Crucifixion. The most relevant details from that night come from Matthew 27.

57 When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathæa, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple:

58 He went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered.

59 And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth,

60 And laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

61 And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre.

62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,

63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again.

64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.

65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can.

66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.

The disciples of Jesus sought to make the burial of Jesus as dignified as possible. Joseph of Arimathea donated his own tomb, newly dug, to hold the body. From John 19:39, we learn that Nicodemus brought myrrh and aloes for the preparation of Jesus's body. His body was hurriedly wrapped and laid to rest because the Sabbath was nigh. The full Jewish customs for burial gave way to their haste, as indicated by the fact that the women closest to him would later try to bring additional spices for anointing the body. By then, they were unable to enter the tomb because it was sealed. To break a Roman seal was against the law, the punishment for which was death. These women, in their grief, devotion, and courage, disregarded that threat.

The Gospels don't reveal where the spirit of Christ would've been in this moment, what he was doing, or who he was with. Peter spoke to these questions in 1 Peter 3:18-120 and 4:6, but not in the kind of detail that we now possess. For Latter-day Saints, these questions were answered more fully on the 4th of October, 1918. This was the date when President Joseph F. Smith revealed section 138 of the  Doctrine and Covenants for the first time. 

25 I marveled, for I understood that the Savior spent about three years in his ministry among the Jews and those of the house of Israel, endeavoring to teach them the everlasting gospel and call them unto repentance;

26 And yet, notwithstanding his mighty works, and miracles, and proclamation of the truth, in great power and authority, there were but few who hearkened to his voice, and rejoiced in his presence, and received salvation at his hands.

27 But his ministry among those who were dead was limited to the brief time intervening between the crucifixion and his resurrection;

28 And I wondered at the words of Peter—wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, who sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.

29 And as I wondered, my eyes were opened, and my understanding quickened, and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;

30 But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

We didn't have the details of how Jesus Christ organized the spirits in Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison to teach/be taught the gospel so their souls could be redeemed until section 138 was revealed. The whole mechanism of performing vicarious ordinances on behalf of the dead in temples relies on the work Jesus Christ did in the Spirit World in the brief space of time between his death and resurrection.

It's here that we learn that those who assist Jesus with this work among the dead are called "the noble and great ones." Those who are redeemed go on to redeem others, including our own family members who receive their vicarious ordinances in the temple. They are also among the noble and great ones.

This is what it means for Jesus to have conquered death. It's not just because he possessed to power to bring himself and others back from the dead. It's because he organized the ability to minister to the dead and to reclaim their souls from hell. They may have died without receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that doesn't automatically damn their souls to hell. Those with the power to redeem the dead, granted by Jesus Christ, can give those spirits another chance to accept his gospel.

Why do Latter-day Saints have temples? What are they for? For redeeming the dead with vicarious ordinances we perform for those in our own families who have died. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. And our ability to do that was put into place when Jesus was in the tomb. His body was there, but his spirit was not. And thanks to him, the world is forever changed because of it.

Holy Week: Atonement

A section of the modern garden in Gethsemane
 

I've been in interfaith spaces enough to know that Latter-day Saints have a different relationship with the Atonement of Jesus Christ than the rest of Christianity. While the idea that Jesus sacrificed himself to meet the demands of the Law of Moses, what the Book of Mormon calls "the great and last sacrifice," we have a different understanding from the rest of Christianity of when that happened. (See Alma 34:13-16)

In every other Christian tradition I've seen and interacted with, the belief is that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. In Latter-day Saint tradition, we believe that this act of intercession and our Savior's achievement of perfected compassion in the Garden of Gethsemane. Note these verses from Luke 22:


41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.


For us, this is the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what it meant for him to be the Messiah. It wasn't a physical rescuing, although he did that for many throughout his mortal ministry. It was the defeat of loneliness, the conquering of sin, and deliverance from evil that defined Jesus Christ as our Savior. The blood he shed during that moment of intercession for the entire human family—past, present, and future—that would crown his ministry as the Only Begotten Son of the Father.


For me, this dual emphasis on Gethsemane and the de-emphasis of the Crucifixion is one of my favorite aspects of my faith. It allows me to have a more expansive view of Atonement that transcends sin. Our scriptures teach of the intercession of Jesus as an act that grants him perfect access to perfect empathy with each of us, in every experience I will ever face.

Some examples of that perspective from the Book of Mormon: 

  • 1 Nephi 19:9
  • 1 Nephi 21:16
  • Mosiah 14:10
  • Alma 7:11-13

In contrast, the Crucifixion to us is a tragic miscarriage of justice, a product of Roman brutality in capital punishment. That Christ was willing to suffer that is significant, but the Crucifixion itself has no inherent holiness to us—let alone being the focal point. That is why Latter-day Saints, for the most part, don't give emphasis to the Crucifixion in our iconography with crosses. Having spent my early years going to Catholic Mass with my mother and seeing the large Crucifix with an emaciated Christ carved and hanging from it at the front of the room, I do prefer my current traditions over the fear and guilt that inspired in me as a child

When people have asked me about why the pain and anguish of Jesus Christ was necessary, it has usually come from people in other Abrahamic faiths outside of Christianity. Why is that level of suffering required to appease God and to meet the demands of divine law?

When the Atonement of Jesus Christ is reduced to the legalistic demands of sin and its consequences, I can understand the confusion. It's not a satisfying explanation to point to the depravity of human kind and say "It was necessary to fix that." I’ve particularly had wise Muslims ask me how a totally innocent person suffering the consequences for a guilty person could ever possibly be just. And when your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ begins and ends with sin, it's hard to know how to respond.

Latter-day Saints have an understanding that would say instead that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice simply because he wanted to. He didn't want any of us to be alone in all the struggles we would ever face. It's not just for sin—it's for every heartache we will ever experience, including those we haven't even come to yet. The total defeat of evil and its power over our lives. He has a perfect knowledge of every need we will ever have, and has received that knowledge into himself so he knows how to comfort and guide us. He was the only one who could do that for the human family. Such access requires "an infinite and eternal sacrifice," and Jesus Christ was the only one who was willing and able to pay the price on our behalf. (See Alma 34:9-12)

That's what makes Jesus Christ special to me: he can see the worst of what humans can do to each other, bearing the collective burden of all of our pain, and survive it without succumbing to hopelessness and despair. He isn't a convenient scapegoat, or (even worse) an enabler. He is a friend to the friendless, the hope to the hopeless, and the last resort to someone who would otherwise be left totally alone and defeated in this world.

I have never been to Gethsemane. I wasn't there when Jesus did this for me. I can't prove to anyone else that it was real or that it happened. All I can do is be the living witness of that kind of love, health, healing, and wholeness in my own life because that's who Jesus Christ has been to me.

Everyone needs that kind of friend in their lives, especially when they don't deserve it. Each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we've done, have that kind of friend in Jesus of Nazareth.

Holy Week: The Sacrament


Where is the exact moment Jesus Christ stopped being a Jew and became the founder of a new and separate religion?

Was it when the Sanhedrin rejected him? When enough other Jews decided he was a heretic, rather than a teacher? Was it the first time he claimed to be the Son of God? When he called his Twelve Apostles, and called Peter the rock upon which he would build his church?

Personally, I think it was the last time he celebrated Passover with his disciples. I'm switching over to Luke 22 for this one.

The celebration of Passover included the eating of unleavened bread and drinking wine. But what Jesus does with them here is where I think the break between Judaism and Christianity begins:

19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

To have a new testament signifies the formation of a new covenant. This is the moment where Jesus uses the authority he has from God to form a new community with a religious identity separate and distinct from Judaism. While Jesus was a Jew, followed Jewish law, observed Jewish customs and holidays, and worshiped the same God as the Jews, he intended to create a church and a community that would break from Jewish traditions. The institution of the Sacrament (our terminology for Holy Communion or the Eucharist in other traditions) was the initiation of this break.

Because Latter-day Saints haven’t celebrated Holy Week historically, and this is something our currently leadership is inviting us to change, it’s been really special to see what other Christians do to make this time special. It has been a great reminder that Easter is the opportunity for all Christians, including us, to celebrate the relationships we've personally developed with Jesus Christ. We have more in common with other Christians than we might think we do, and it’s because we all have this common belief in how much Jesus Christ and his ministry changed the world.

I’m still contemplating what it means for me to celebrate Holy Week. I’ve thought about the choice I made at Easter time many years ago to be baptized. I went to the temple yesterday. I’ve been studying scriptures for these daily meditations, which I’ve enjoyed very much. And tomorrow, my husband and I are going to an orchestral performance of Rob Gardner's Lamb of God. There isn’t really an established program for any of this for our people now, and we’re each contemplating how to do this and make it personally meaningful.

My favorite part of sharing these has been the ways you all have shared how my thoughts are helping you to develop your own Holy Week messages and traditions with your own families. I’ve deeply enjoyed those messages, and I think this was the wisdom in having us begin participating in these traditions: the way we would help each other and celebrate our faith in Christ together. 

It truly doesn’t get better than that. And I hope that becomes a key feature of what Latter-day Saints celebrating Holy Week looks like going forward.

Holy Week: The Anointing


Mary of Bethany, who came to anoint Christ for his burial in Matthew 26, performed an act of faith and devotion that even his chosen Twelve were unable to perform for him.

She understood that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God. She also knew, and had the courage to confront, that Jesus was going to die. She wasn't in denial of this fact. She didn't attempt to change this reality through violence or vengeance. She accepted it and came to perform the anointing for his body.

What she knew to be true, Jesus was still fighting with the Twelve to get them to understand and accept. They resisted the truth they didn't want to hear. As a result, they were unprepared to help him in the coming days the way he needed them to.

What we can gather about the struggle here is one we still see in the Church today: women will have access to divine truths that men will not have the faith to discern. And when the source of that truth is a woman, they will not believe it because women are not reliable sources of truth to them. Even when Jesus corrected them for criticizing her, saying the ointment she brought to him wasn't wasteful because it was for his burial, they were still in denial that he was actually going to die.

The Church has done a great deal of work to bring women, their voices and perspectives, into the administrative circles of the Church. There has been over a decade of training on the importance of councils with women on them, delegating assignments to women, making women and their contributions more visible. The mileage may vary, but a significant portion of church membership knows this is how things are supposed to work, even if they are poor at implementing it into practice.

What I still see, however, is that men in leadership still struggle to accept women as sources of truth they themselves do not possess. There is an attitude still that women are only trustworthy as long as they're repeating back to men the things they already believe. When it comes to the kind of revelation that serves God in innovative or difficult ways, in their minds, those answers shouldn't be coming to women first.

Jesus Christ trusted women. He found willing, capable disciples among them. They exceeded the faith of his chosen Twelve many times, and Jesus used their faith as examples to these men to challenge their entrenched gender bias. Jesus Christ didn't subscribe to the rigid gender binary that men subscribed to in that day, and it's a struggle he is still having with men to this day.

Jesus was the perfect teacher and advocate for women. He did not tolerate the disrespect that so often defined being a woman then. He doesn't tolerate it now. And as we contemplate the spirit of Easter, celebrating the liberation of the captive, this is the liberation I still find myself praying for.

The hope I have for the future of the Church is the one where we finally achieve the equality Jesus spent his entire life teaching about. Where the preferences and ignorance of men in leadership is no longer a stumbling block to me on my pathway home to my Heavenly Parents.

I've never prayed about this where the answer has ever changed.

"What are you going to do about it?"

Answer: Never stop telling the truth. Never stop reaching for what Jesus taught is my right to receive. Reach out and take what is mine, regardless of how men try to obstruct me. And most importantly, make sure I keep the way open for others who come after me. I'm not the only one hurt by the gender binary. I'm not free until we're all free. And like Jesus, I will stick with it for as long as it takes, even if it takes another two thousand years.

Holy Week: The Olivet Discourse

Holy Tuesday is also called Fig Tuesday. The events attributed to Christ on that day begins with the cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21 and includes all of the sermons and teachings until Matthew 26.

This includes the Olivet Discourse, the portion of scripture that covers when Jesus prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. This greatly disturbed the Twelve, who asked Jesus to clarify and expand what that meant. They couldn't fathom the events that would result in the temple at Jerusalem, the center of their Jewish faith, being destroyed. They felt great fear at that prospect and wanted answers for what this would mean for them.

What came from that questioning was part of Matthew 23, 24, and 25. And in Latter-day Saint tradition, we have Joseph Smith-Matthew in the Pearl of Great, the JST of Matthew 24.

Receiving difficult truth and having the courage to face a future of hardship is part of what we learn here. Jesus did not come to destroy Rome on behalf of the Jewish people, despite their expectations that this would happen when the Messiah arrived. Instead, Jesus revealed the spiritual violence and oppression that existed in his community. He gave God's power and authority to his disciples, knowing he would leave them until a later time. Even Jesus did not know when he would return to them again, to finish his work as the Messiah.

The salient parts of his instruction here that I think matters for us is what it means to wait. The kind of sacred waiting that can go on for lifetimes, maintaining hope for a future that we may never see. To be the servant of God that endures well through all the trials of life, becoming a better servant because of them. And Jesus provides instruction in Matthew 25 of what qualities those servants have.

The parable of the ten virgins teaches wisdom in planning and thinking ahead, in gathering and conserving resources that allow us to last through the night.

That parable of the talents teaches us to make the most of the talents and resources God has given to us, to multiply and magnify them in our service to the Lord.

The parable of the sheep and the goats teaches us self-awareness in ways that are only obvious if you've had the experience of working with sheep and goats. Goat are ornery and self-defeating, making messes and breaking out of their enclosures simply because they can. They resist all attempts to care for them, instead choosing to do only as they please, even when it puts them in danger. They taunt, bicker, and fight with one another constantly. They are troublemakers in every sense of the word. Every person I've known who has a herd of goats knows that to make good decisions goes against their every instinct. In a cultural agrarian shorthand that is lost on many today, the parable of the goats invites people to do self-reflection, identify those tendencies in themselves, and to confront the ways we actively resist the love and care of Christ.

And of course, one of the most important teachings of Christ in the scriptures, the contemplation of how we treat the undesirables of society. Do we understand that's who Christ was in his society, and that how we treat those people is exactly how we would treat him if we saw him? Humility and universal love are difficult and go against human reason and much of our nature. But it's impossible to be a good disciple, to withstand the difficulties of this life and maintain a sense of human dignity intact, if we reject and spurn people based on how we've been socialized. To be a good disciple of Jesus Christ, we can't judge people that way.

All of these lessons form an image of the trust Jesus has in us. While we contemplate how to deepen our faith in God, I think it's equally important during Easter to realize how much faith they have in us. They've given us so much responsibility, trusting that we are equal to the task they've given us.

We are capable of seeing the holiness in ourselves and in each other. We are capable of bringing forth good fruit, in contrast to that fig tree. To me, this is what it means to multiply and replenish the earth. It's not just about bearing children. It's bringing goodness, health, vitality, and healing into the world where it did not exist before.

Holy Week: The Cleansing of the Temple

Jesus Cleansing the Temple, Carl Bloch

I have seen multiple people on Instagram talking about Jesus cleansing the temple in the final week of his ministry and misinterpreting the motive Jesus had for doing it. So let's talk about the details we can glean from Scripture to better understanding this story.

The temple complex had merchants who would sell animals to people they could use for sacrifices. The law of Moses in Leviticus 5 (see also Leviticus 14-15) talks about how the sin offering involves sacrificing a lamb or a kid goat. In the case of extreme poverty, two doves were the acceptable alternatives. These offerings would be bled on the Temple altar and burned.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves. —Matt 21:13

The act of selling these animals was not the problem. It was a necessary part of the temple functioning, especially as people traveled from far distances to participate in temple worship.

The problem that caused Jesus to walk through the stalls turning over tables brandishing a whip was price gouging. Theft, of both money and access to God.

Everything that happened in the temple complex was under the direction of the high priest, the most important figure in Judaism at the time. The animals provided would've been inspected and assured that they would meet the requirements of the law. In a world where various monies were in use, weighed with scales to meet the established exchange rates, nothing would've prevented the high priest from requiring bribes from the privilege of operating in the temple market. Nothing would've prevented the scales from being turned against those who price gouged the public to provide for those bribes, as well as to line their own pockets. All of this happened at the expense of the people who were required by divine law to make these sacrifices to achieve forgiveness of their sins.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his disdain for the senior-most leadership of Judaism in his day. He had condemned the love of money and status over people so many times. He had disrupted ceremonies and insulted the priests to their faces. He had criticized their poor understanding of the law and their duties to others in their community. He had called them hypocrites, a den of vipers, vessels that were clean on the outside but filthy within, whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones, predators akin to wolves in sheep's clothing, and unprofitable servants. And here, he engages in his most pointed and unapologetic criticism yet for those in power:

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. —Matt 21:13

The agitation of Jesus Christ culminated in this exact moment, where he struck back against the Establishment not only in thought, but in their pocketbooks. In the destruction of the temple market, he restored access to the ordinances for all by front the animals to those who were present. He liberated the money to the oppressed in society by flinging it outside the reach of those who had taken it from them. He upturned the power structure and social order which placed the high priest as a wealthy superior over, rather than a humble servant to, the Jewish community.

Make no mistake: Jesus was a Jew. He loved his community and his faith. He loved God. He respected the law, which called his people to be the best versions of themselves to serve God. But this love didn't stop him from publicly criticizing and condemning moral failure in the leadership around him. Love does not enable abuse. And it was abuse that allowed Jewish leadership at the time to limit access to the most important, the most sacred ordinances in Judaism only to those who were willing and able to pay enough money.

What do we learn from Jesus, from his destruction of the temple market?

That some evil forces in society cannot be reformed. Reasoning with abusers in ways they don't have to acknowledge, that doesn't cost them anything, isn't a solution for the powerless. That people are more important than money and the economy. That there is restorative justice waiting for the oppressed, in the form of destruction for their oppressors. And when this happens, a greater increase of faith, healing, and power from heaven will follow.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. Matt. 21:14

This Easter season, this is the hope and prayer for many: that God will remember those who have been shut out of their communities because of the exorbitant prices set by their leadership for their participation. That God will restore access to the holiness and forgiveness that has been stolen from them. That there is still a Savior, a Deliverer from the greed and pride that drives this world. And most of all, that there is healing and rest for those who have been exploited against their will, that all that has been stolen will be restored to them one day.

The Story of Prophetic Fallibility in Acts 15 Everyone Skips

There are many different ways to read and study scripture. There's the daily devotional style the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently adopted from the rest of Christianity. There's the various reading challenges that have been established and invoked, particularly relating to the Book of Mormon. There are topical studies, which focuses the study on a theme or subject of personal importance to the reader. I've always favored topical studies over consecutive study in my personal worship. It's what makes the use of scripture to me feel personal, rather than scholarly or historical.


The weakness of that approach is that I can go decades in the Church without encountering a story that doesn't get emphasized in Church curriculum or in my personal study. I just encountered such a story in Acts 15.

Past and present church materials focus on the Jerusalem conference, in which the church leadership had to settle arguments and contentions that were occurring about whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be accepted into the Church. The church leadership met together and determined that this wasn't necessary and put an undo burden upon new converts that wasn't adding anything of value to their faith. They then determine what standard of observance they wanted to keep and adapt from the Law of Moses to be followed by the disciples of Christ. It's a valuable story about how what it looks like to worship God can change over time, but the true spirit of worship never changes. An important step to having that spirit of worship is settling disagreements and laying aside preconceived notions of what worship has to look like based on the past, making space for what worship can look like in the future.

However, that's not the story I'm talking about. I'm talking about the explosive argument between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not to take John Mark with them on their travels.

Verse 38 gives the explanation for the conflict as one where Paul doesn't trust John Mark because he left them in Pamphylia and refused to work with them. But how much of this is from the earlier stages of this conflict that Paul may have caused by creating a hostile environment towards the assistants who traveled with them? The fact that Barnabas is still willing to work with John Mark, whose name is on the gospel of Mark, says we don't have all the details of this story, and not all the issue centered on or was caused by John Mark.

Verse 39 tells that "the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other." Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, leaving Paul behind. It's the story of a conflict that arose in church leadership, largely from Paul's refusal to work with someone he didn't like, that remained unresolved as they continued forward in their ministries.

It's not the picture perfect image of total unity and fellowship between church leaders, who are able to lay aside their differences and preferences to work with each other through disagreement. I imagine that's why this story has been left out of the Church curriculum for some time.

Reviewing the Sunday School manual that was in use before Come Follow Me, nothing about this conflict was mentioned. Come Follow Me not only doesn't use this material, it seems to be actively trying to conceal it by focusing on a discussion topic (Line Upon Line) carefully crafted not to use any of that material. It also isn't included in the targeted reading, which invites members to read Acts 15:1-25. Anyone following along solely with the emphasis given in Come Follow Me isn't going to come into contact with this story.

I think that's a real loss to our community, if I'm honest. There is no sin in recognizing that church leaders are human who don't always get along with each other, who can exist in a state of ardent disagreement with each other while still accomplishing the work God has sent them to do. They can be staunchly in their own opinions about someone else, which are later proven to be wrong. (See 2 Tim. 4:11 and Col. 4:10) In their own human frailty and weakness, they can completely misjudge someone else's character and potential. Their stewardship over the Church does not give them perfect knowledge about people and who/what they have the capacity to accomplish.

It's an important lesson for understanding conflicts and dissensions that happen later to the Church in Missouri, where several members of the Quorum of the Twelve leave the Church and have to be replaced. (See D&C 114 and 118) While many of the narratives (and curriculum) relating to this time period attribute apostolic fall to sin and disloyalty, it's more accurate to say that these divisions arose from conflicts that church leadership at the time were unable to resolve.

Church leadership in the time of Acts couldn't perfectly resolve conflicts within their ranks. The restored church is no different. If we avoid and conceal prophetic fallibility continuously, we fail to prepare our people to know how to handle it and move forward through it.

If we want our people to be able to move forward in faith like John Mark when confronting that fallibility, it will help greatly if we tell that story in our classes and learn from that choice.

God's Love IS Unconditional

Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In my younger years, I attempted to excuse myself from fully buying into the notion that God truly intended me to love all people. Surely he didn't mean for me to love people I have good reason not to trust, those who show animosity towards me and would do me harm if they got the chance. And certainly there was no obligation for me to love the people who had already intentionally and maliciously hurt me. 

A God who truly cared about me wouldn't put me in that position... right?

This was part of a prolonged, circuitous effort to justify myself in refusing to forgive several of the most abusive people in my past. I could "forgive" them in a way that was effectively meaningless, as long as I didn't have to love them. It was a rationale that came from a deeply hurt and fearful place.

As I continued to heal and reached a place where I was ready to handle the answers to these questions, the truth slowly coalesced in my own mind through the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus said love everyone...

To love my neighbor is a commandment that Jesus Christ teaches consistently throughout the New Testament, through just about every imaginable lens.

And in one of my favorite sermons in all of scripture, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that I am to love my enemies.

So between loving my neighbor and my enemies... who is left?

There is no one else left. Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Parents who sent him, never intended to leave us any room to make exceptions. The love they intend to teach us is universal, meaning without limits or exceptions.

It's through this same logical progression that I want to discuss why I believe, with every inch of my soul, that divine love is truly unconditional. I will also discuss why I'm deeply mistrustful of anyone who presents any vision of divine love that isn't unconditional.

One of the scriptures that has been in my life the longest as a disciple is Romans 8:38-39. It's probably the one I've reached for more than any other in my seventeen years of church membership, including now:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don't have to be a Biblical literalist to understand that these verses are describing a love that is infinite and eternal in nature. It does not end. It never changes. The love of God transcends all human weakness to encompass the entire human race. And to someone who is determined to make this a description of universal love again, they just stop there.

Read it again.

When it says that nothing and no one, including "any other creature," can separate us from the love of God, that includes ourselves. The literal meaning of these words is that nothing we will ever do will remove the love of God from us. By the time God's love is universal in all the ways that the scriptures describe, it's impossible for that love not to also be unconditional.

And treat them kindly too.

Why is this important? Because it's impossible to fully appreciate the motivation of Jesus Christ during his atonement in Gethsemane without it.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

That's what Jesus Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. That was the reason he bled from every pore. It wasn't to set some impossibly high standard of righteousness he knew no one else would ever be able live up to. It wasn't to position himself as a superior to the rest of the human race. It was to make sure that no mistake any person would ever make would prevent them from re-entering the presence of our Heavenly Parents. His sacrifice does not exist as the ultimate condemnation of sin. It's the unconditional love he showed to all of humanity, including to those who would never choose to believe in him. It was the ultimate act of unconditional love.

The prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon taught that when Jesus Christ was making that sacrifice, he saw his seed. I've heard some go so far as to suggest that he saw each and every person individually for whom he was making that sacrifice. I'm inclined to agree with that interpretation. (See Mosiah 15:10)

Abinadi then goes on to define exactly who the seed of Jesus Christ is. And as it turns out, it's not those who obey the laws of God with exactness. It's not the whole who need no physician. It's those who look forward to a remission of their sins, who are fully aware they are imperfect human beings who require grace to be made whole. As always, it's the harlots and publicans, the strangers and outsiders who go into heaven before those who find themselves thinking, "the world would be a better place if everyone in it were more like me and approached God exactly like I do." (See Matthew 9:12-13, 12:42, and 21:28-31. See also Jacob 3:5 and Helaman 7:24)

As I recall, that was the sin that got Lucifer cast out of the presence of God. He attempted to put himself between us and our Heavenly Parents with a plan that never would've allowed us to experience that divine love ever again. He, not Jesus Christ, is the one who wanted to make divine love conditional upon his own standard, which he intended to implement by force. He sought to make himself, not God, the object of our worship, the receiver of our love. (See Moses 4:1-4)

Why am I mistrusting of anyone who rejects divine love as being unconditional? Because my soul has been rejecting that plan since the very beginning. I don't trust anyone who views it as their right to stand between our Heavenly Parents and their children, interrupting the loving exchange between us and them. My Savior died so that no one would ever be in a position to do that. I reject the idea that any other intermediary belongs there, deciding how much divine love anyone else is entitled to experience.

When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.

Why would someone put themselves in that position? The same reason I did all those years ago, in my own very human way: to justify myself in withholding my love from someone I didn't want to acknowledge was deserving of it. I wanted to abandon the second great commandment to love my neighbor, when I already knew there was no way for me to do that without utterly breaking the first. That is, to love God.

If you don't believe me, you don't have to take my word for it. 1 John 4:20-21 says the same exact thing:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

This is as true for God as it is for us. Our Heavenly Parents have set no standard for us that they are not equally bound to follow. They have taught us to have universal, unconditional love for each other because it's how they live. It's the only way we can truly become like them.

And while we (and they) are fully aware that we will stumble along the way, I believe they would rather watch us stumble along the path of loving unconditionally than being perfect at withholding our love from those who just don't deserve it. Especially if we're going to point to them as a justification.

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