“What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Good question. This week we have numerous lessons about what it takes to follow Christ effectively. If we truly want eternal life we will have to look at our priorities and our habits to determine if they are taking us down the path we say we want or if they are leading us down a road that will, in the end, disappoint us.
The reading assignment for this lesson is Mark 10:17–30; 12:41–44; Luke 12:13–21; 14; 16. There is additional reading in Matthew 19:16–30; Luke 18:18–30; 21:1–4; Jacob 2:18–19. When you read through these references you will see that there are common themes and threads running throughout these verses.
The nature of man
As we look at each of the stories and parables taught by the Savior, try looking at them from the following perspective. We are not mortal beings in that we were not brought into existence to live and die only during our brief time in mortality. We are, in fact, eternal beings, sent to spend a brief, and temporary time in mortality to prove our mettle – to see the stuff of our character.
When we make decisions in mortality, thinking only as someone who was created in mortality and will cease to exist after mortality, our decisions are very different than someone who is an eternal being who is only here to be tested then will be moving on to the next phase of their eternal existence. What is truly important as a mortal is not the same as what is truly important to an immortal, eternal soul. We are immortal souls.
We will live to see all the stars around us burn out and die and be replaced a thousand times, and yet we will still live on. We are eternal, not like the objects we see around us in the universe. We need to learn to make our choices based on this perspective. We need to be reminded from time to time that our decisions, our goals, and our loyalties do not belong here in mortality. Our loyalties and decisions, our goals, need to be focused on the rest of eternity, our true home.
Trusting in riches
In the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus seeking eternal life, Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor then take up his cross and follow Him. This grieved the young man. Why? Because the young man’s loyalties were divided. He was willing to keep all the commandments that were easy for him, but his heart of hearts was more devoted to his wealth than it was to Jesus. He was not willing to give up the wealth to gain eternal life.
Was it the wealth that Jesus did not want him to have? No. What Jesus was looking for was the willingness to be obedient in all things. This was the young man’s Achilles heel, his one weakness. But this lesson confused the disciples. They lived under the commonly held belief that if you were rich it was because God had blessed you for your righteousness. Silly, I know, but that is what they thought.
When Jesus tells them that rich people would have a more difficult time getting into heaven than a camel getting through the eye of a needle, the disciples were confused. Surely Jesus couldn’t mean that those blessed of God with riches were not going to be denied heaven. If they, who were chosen of God to be blessed because of their righteousness couldn’t get into heaven, then how could the poor ever expect to get to heaven?
Mark 10:24 says:
… Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!
The key to this verse is in the word “trust.” When we put all our faith and trust in our wealth it becomes our focus. It is what we lean on to get us through in life. We begin to expect that with enough money our problems can be solved, and all difficult things can be overcome. It becomes, in short, our god. That is why Jesus told the young man to give away all his money. That is why he was grieved.
This brings into perspective the story of the widow’s mite. Jesus watched people donating money to the temple coffers, watching wealthy people put in great sums of money. But when a poor widow put in two mites, the smallest of all coins, He recognized the size of her offering to God’s house compared to the wealthy who could well afford their more generous gifts. They gave only of their excess, while this widow gave up all that she had. This was the lesson he had tried to teach the rich young man.
It wasn’t important who had more money. What was important was how the money was viewed and treated. The poor widow was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, possibly needing to go without food for a time in order to make her small donation to God’s temple. But the wealthy who had been donating were not willing to make the same level of sacrifice. She fulfilled the divine requirement. She was willing to give her all for the Lord.
We all have to work for a living. Making money is an imperative. We cannot live without it. But do we balance our quest for “enough” money and possessions with our “need” for spiritual plenty? Which of these two will satisfy our need to prepare for the rest of eternity? Which of these two will bring us closer to our Father in Heaven during our short time in mortality?
Again, the Lord does not ask us to give all that we have to the poor and scrape our way through life in suffering and sorrow. He only asks that, if told to do so we would be willing. It is the desire for obedience He is hoping for. He actually promises to bless us with the goods of this world, if, and only if, our first priority is blessing His children with what we have been blessed with.
Generosity of spirit
One of the ways we know if we have got it right – a way we can tell if we are treating material things appropriately, is how we use them. In Luke 12: 15 – 21 Jesus teaches His disciples a lesson about those who have plenty, but don’t know what to do with it. In verse 15 he gives them the moral of the story He is about to tell them.
15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
The story is about a man who has much, and his crops and wealth are multiplying faster than he has room to hold it all. As a result, the man decides that in order to amass and keep even more wealth he will tear down all of his storage facilities and build magnificent warehouses so that he will be able to store many years worth of plenty for himself.
I hope you saw all the red flags that should have gone up in that retelling. Yes, he had great wealth, but the Lord did not fault him for his wealth. The man only wanted to keep his wealth for himself. He had extra, a lot of extra, yet instead of trying to bless the lives of the poor or needy, he sought to only enrich himself further. The Lord said the man was a fool, because that night the Lord would require the man’s soul. The million dollar question was then asked, ‘And who will own all those possessions once you are dead?’ Obviously it wouldn’t be the wealthy man. He would leave mortality like everyone else, empty handed. What good did his wealth do him in the end?
The point is that there are so many people who have so many needs in this life. When we have enough (and that is the big question – how much is enough?) what do we do with our extra? Do we seek to bless the lives of others with it? Do we dedicate our wealth, whether big or small to the Lord and His work, or do we hoard it for ourselves for fear we will not have enough for our own comforts? Where is our loyalty? Are we willing to sacrifice to the Lord anything He asks of us?
The sacrifice need not come in the form of money. It could be time, or relationships. The Lord tells us that anyone who is not willing to give up family or anything else for that matter, is not worthy of Him. Remember, our goals need to be focused on eternity, not the 70+ years we have in mortality. Whatever we don’t have here we will be recompensed a thousand fold for in the hereafter. It is a matter of faith and hope.
When the Lord gave Joseph Smith the Word of Wisdom He cautioned us against eating too much and of the wrong kinds of food. He wants us to be healthy while here in mortality. Yet the Lord’s declaration when it comes to our desires to “feast” on things of the Spirit are that He “delights in fatness.” He wants us to eat and drink our fill of eternal things. If our souls are filled with the things of eternity then it doesn’t matter what happens to us in mortality. Our short time here is a test to see if we can learn to look beyond our mortal bonds and live a higher level of life, a celestial life. That is our goal.
The questions for this week are: How much time and energy do I devote to my eternal well being as opposed to my physical well being? Am I being as wise and prudent in my spiritual matters as I am trying to be in my financial matters? Am I as concerned with amassing spiritual blessings as I am focused on amassing physical pleasures? How eager am I to share what little I have? Am I willing to give up and walk away from anything the Lord requires of me? Am I willing to change habits, forgo comforts, or even relationships in order to please my Lord? The answers to these questions will give us a good idea who our god really is, and where we might have need to improve.
Our sacrifices in this life are not without benefit. We are seeking a place in the kingdom of our Father, the God and Ruler of all. That comes at a price of obedience and loyalty. Are we willing to forgo present comforts in order to secure eternal joys? For our own sakes, let’s hope so.