When all is said and done, the chapters used for the Come, Follow Me lessons in week 22 of 2023 are about how our performance and desires will be measured in the final judgment. So if you really want to know what the Lord is looking for, and looking at, these chapters give us a pretty good list of the criteria by which we will all be judged.
The title of the week’s lessons is “The Son of Man Shall Come”. That puts us in the mode to only look at the lessons about the Savior’s return, but the lessons that keep popping up for me are about what the Lord is looking for in my behavior that will consign me to one kingdom or another at the final judgment. With that said, I am using the same chapters the manual uses, but to learn a different lesson. Though each of the individual parables have their own lessons to be learned, consider this list of parables as a painting, and each of the parables are just a series of brush strokes that make up the whole of the composition. Together they tell a much bigger and broader story.
Parables in question
The scriptures used for this lesson are Joseph Smith—Matthew 1; Matthew 24-25; Mark 12-13; and Luke 21. (FYI, Joseph Smith—Matthew 1 is found in the Pearl of Great Price. It is made up of the last verse from the King James Version of the Bible’s Matthew 23, and all of Matthew 24.) The parables in all of these chapters are, in the order they appear:
The parable of the fig tree (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:38-40, and Matthew 24:32-33)
The parable of the wise steward (Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:48-55, and Matthew 24:44-51)
The parable of the ten virgins
The parable of the talents
The parable of the sheep and the goats
The parable of the wicked husbandmen
The two great commandments (not a parable)
The widow’s mite
This is quite the list! Following my previous analogy that each of these stories can be seen as brushstrokes in a much larger picture, let’s look at the basic lessons we can draw from each of these parables. All of the lessons presented here have to do with the choices we make in life and how they will affect how we are judged.
Most of us live in places where plants can act as the harbinger of the coming season. In the Middle East one of the first plants to put forth leaves is the fig tree. In the Mountain West in America, we look for the budding of the lilac bushes. And in each part of the world where seasons are a thing, there is an early bloomer that tells of the coming change in the seasons.
The Savior’s point with this parable is to remind us to look for the signs of what is to come. We need not be surprised or taken unaware. We may not know the hour of his coming, but he has given us many ways to tell that the hour of his return is getting closer. Honestly, it doesn’t make much difference, since we probably won’t be alive when he returns anyway. His point is that everyone in every generation needs to be preparing for what happens when he does return, because whether we are on this side of the veil or the other, there are consequences for how we have chosen to live our lives. Those consequences will begin to be seen in very real ways with his return to earth at the destruction of the wicked or end of the world.
This parable fits in nicely with the story of the fig tree. This parable is especially applicable to the members of the Lord’s church. To each of us God has given particular responsibilities. Many of those come from our callings, but the most important ones come from the covenants we have made with Him. Think of your baptismal covenants, the gift He has given each of us of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and all of the temple covenants we make, including those we made with our eternal companion. We have made a lot of promises.
In this parable we see that once given responsibilities by our Master, if we become lax, for whatever reason, and begin to behave as someone who has never occupied a privileged place in our Master’s favor, when we are called to answer for our behaviors. It won’t bode well for those who have forsaken their covenants and ignored the promises we have made to God. On the other hand, we are told that those found having been faithful in keeping a watchful eye for the Master’s return, even though we have no way of knowing when He will call us up for an accounting of our duties to Him, He will reward us with great things for our faithfulness in His apparent absence.
We are taught that the oil in our lamps is the influence of the Holy Ghost in our lives. Just as the wise steward remained faithful to the Master’s wishes, even though the Master was not physically present with him, so too were the five virgins faithful in keeping the Spirit alive and burning brightly in their lives. The foolish virgins were lax in their efforts to keep in contact with the Spirit and to learn from Him, so the world pulled them away, and their “flames” began to sputter. The wise virgins knew that a person can only last on borrowed light for so long. They needed to go and fill their lives with the Spirit themselves, rather than try to rely on what the wise virgins already had obtained from their own hard work.
Filling our lives, our lamps, with the Holy Spirit takes time and effort. It isn’t something that can be given to us from a friend. We can live off their light for a time, but eventually we all have to be able to produce our own light from the lives we have chosen to live. In the King James Version (KJV) it says that the Bridegroom tells the foolish virgins that he doesn’t know them, then shuts the door against their entering the bridal feast. Joseph Smith alters that verse and the Bridegroom says to the foolish virgins, (JST Matt. 25:11) “Verily I say unto you, Ye know me not.” This makes more sense. If they had taken the time to get to know God and Christ through their interactions with the Spirit, they would have been ready to be welcomed into the presence of God at the feast.
These foolish virgins professed to know the Master, but did nothing to show it. This can be said of the members of Christ’s church who have made the covenants, but do not make the choices in their daily lives to learn of Him, and get to know Him.
Too often we see this parable as having to do with whether or not we take those dance lessons or practice the piano. I think we sorely miss the point of this parable.
The Master gave different amounts of money (a talent is a large sum of money) to each servant. Why the different amounts? Why the different reactions to how they used what He gave them? For me, the lesson to be learned in this parable is that God knows that each of us has varying capacities. He gives us work and responsibilities based on what He knows we can handle and on what we need to grow and learn. This modern notion of equity, having all things equal, is evil. It is not from God.
God does not love you any less than He loves me, just because you may have a greater capacity to do something. His love is completely equal. He is just practical in that He gives me what I can handle, while He gives you what you can handle. That is real love.
Even when the Master took from the third servant who hid his money, and gave it to the first servant, He wasn’t shorting the efforts of the second servant. The Master knew that the first servant had the greatest capacity, so the extra money went to him. Here is the important lesson. All three servants were equally loved by the Master, but the first two were allowed to enter into the joy of their Lord. Why? Because of their individual choices to do good with what they were given. The Lord could not reward the third servant who had squandered the opportunities the Lord had given him to improve himself. Justice required the third servant be punished for accepting the gift then not using is wisely. Yes, God’s punishments are never arbitrary. They are always just, and someday everyone will recognize that.
Matthew 25:29 spells out a basic law of behavior consequence in this life. The parable of the talents illustrates this law. My rewording of the law goes like this. If you are given something in this life and do nothing with it, the Lord will take it away. He will even take away from you what you already had. If the Lord gives you something in this life and you magnify it, or use it wisely, you will be given more. This means that when God gives us abilities, even very small ones, if we use them to the best of our knowledge and ability, He will magnify or enlarge our capacity so we can do more than we could before. This is the Lord’s way of telling us there is no way to “hide” the abilities and capacities we have in our possession. Either we use them and enlarge them, and with His help grow them even bigger, or when we squander the capacities we already had, He will take them away. There is no such thing as doing nothing or not making a choice. We either do or do not. Our judgment is based on these choices.
Sheep and Goats
Again, the Lord’s judgments are not arbitrary. When God judges all mankind, He doesn’t just arbitrarily appoint some of us to be goats and others to be sheep, some to be punished and some to be blessed. He defines how this separation will be made, and we are the ones to choose which we are.
Jesus paid for your sins, my sins, and the most vile sinners ever to walk the earth. The price has been paid for every soul to ever be born, and who will yet be born. This is partly why he takes it personally when we don’t care for one another. If you are homeless and I don’t take you in, Jesus takes that insult personally. After all, he suffered just as much for them as he did for me. What right do I have to judge another and deny them the love of God? What right do I have to decide who gets cared for in this life and who gets abandoned to suffer on their own?
In many ways salvation is personal. I don’t answer for your sins, your behavior. You don’t answer for mine. On the other hand, salvation is, and always has been, a family affair. God expects us to do for others what they can’t do for themselves, just as Jesus did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. If we withhold our goods, services, love, etc. for any reason, it is we who will be punished in the day of judgment. This is the law of vicarious works. Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, and we are required to do for others what they cannot do for themselves. This is the basis for almost all that goes on in our temples. If you would like to know more about vicarious works, here is something I wrote – We Believe in Vicarious Salvation.
A number of the points from the parable relate directly to the children of Israel and how they treated the prophets the Lord sent to call them to repentance. What we need to remember is that this story isn’t about the proverbial “them”. This story is very much about us as individuals. Israel, an unknown entity, didn’t reject the prophets. The individuals who made up Israel rejected them. They cast them out of their homes and hearts. They sanctioned their being imprisoned and being stoned. These were personal choices made that came with very personal consequences.
God has given us His vineyard, His kingdom on earth, to care for. Do we each recognize His authorized servants when He sends them to us? When they come they carry a message from our Father. Do we emotionally and spiritually throw them out of our home, and out of our heart? Do we embrace them as His servants and cherish their words? This is a very personal thing and not something we can blame on others. In the parable the group is known as the wicked husbandmen. In reality we are those husbandmen. Does this parable aptly describe us? It doesn’t have to.
In regards to our judgment, how we accept and treat the Lord’s authorized servants has a big impact on how He will judge us individually. Since I can’t answer for your sins, nor you mine, we will each have to answer to God for how well His servants’ messages are received in our life.
First and second great commandments
I find it interesting that the Lord included this in the middle of all these parables. But parable or not, these commandments fit the theme perfectly.
We cannot live the first commandment to love God with all our heart if we don’t first live the second commandment, to love our neighbor as our self. The Lord has come out and openly declared as much. Remember when I said that salvation is a family affair? This is how I define it as a family affair. We are all in this together. It is not an “every man for himself” scenario. If we fail to love and support, encourage and help each other then we have proven that we do not want to be Christlike, and are not worthy of living with God forever.
Like the parable of the sheep and the goats, it is our choice to feed the hungry and visit the sick and the afflicted. God has always maintained that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. These are His commandments. Everything we stand for, hope for, desire, or profess to want, is tied up in keeping these commandments to be good and kind to each other. We either succeed together or we all fail. But like the parable of the ten virgins, we can personally do our part, and like the parable of the talents, the Lord will reward us based on our own efforts.
The success of the plan of happiness is neither just a group effort, nor just an individual effort. To God it is about ALL of His children. But for us, we still need to learn to love others as God loves them. That is something we learn and grow into. What starts out as concern for just our own soul grows into a concern for the souls of others. It is all part of that enlargement of capacity I talked about earlier. Examples of this are found throughout the scriptures. You can start by rereading the experience of Enos in the woods in the Book of Mormon. First he struggled to save his own soul, but once he had secured that his love expanded to include his people, and finally his enemies as well.
This parable is the capstone story given by Jesus at the end of that long list of parables and lessons. It is this parable that tied everything together for me and sent me down this particular rabbit hole.
Like the parable of the talents, Jesus doesn’t judge on the financial value of her contribution to the temple treasury. He values her contribution above all the wealth put in by others, because the little she donated was all she had. Her contribution was vast in God’s eyes, for it was willingly given for the right reasons. Not only was it a willing and humble offering, but it represented her whole heart and soul. No one can convince me that God did not bless her for that act of faith. Here is an article on the widow’s mite.
Looking back on each of these parables and lessons, what pattern have we seen running throughout? Christlike love is a love that goes beyond our personal wants and needs and seeks the welfare of others. Love of God is shown through personal choices to obey and learn, progress, and grow. We have seen that those who proclaim their desire to do more are given the opportunity, like in the story of the talents. If we make good on our gifts the Lord will magnify and accept our efforts and we will be worthy to enter into the joy of our Lord.
When we have made covenants with God and we take the opportunity to be close to the Spirit through the choices we make, then like the five wise virgins we will earn a place at the wedding feast – again, we will enter into the joy of our Lord. Choosing to be kind to each other, to look after the welfare of others, and to sacrifice for the comfort of others earns us the designation of one of Christ’s sheep, to be on his right hand. This means we have learned to serve one another and fulfill our given responsibilities, like the wise steward. All this while we wait patiently for the coming of the Lord.
Yes, we are all still waiting for the second coming of Christ. But whether or not he comes in our lifetime, we need to “keep watch” as though he will. If we don’t then it is human nature to devolve into acting like the rest of the world, for our thoughts will only be on the things of today, instead of on the things of eternity. Watching and waiting are how we keep ourselves focused on God and the lives we want to live forever and ever. This life is simply too short to fuss with striving for power or influence. God will give us both that will last for eternity if we just serve Him now.
The signs of the times are upon us. The fig tree has figuratively leafed out and summer is almost here. Christ has made it clear that to be ready for his coming we need to make sure we are not ready alone. Our brothers and sisters need to be with us. Our covenants demand that we seek the welfare of others. Here is our baptismal covenant as found in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 18:8-10). Note as you read it how it includes every lesson we have learned from the parables we just read from Jesus.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are to come into the of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are to mourn with those that ; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the , that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being in the of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
Alma teaches in Alma 40-41 that the plan of salvation is also called the plan of restoration. In the final judgment we will all be restored to that which we chose on a daily basis in this life. If we choose each day to be good and keep the commandments then our reward will be to have good restored to us in the eternities. The parables we read today each contribute their part to the list of things we need to know and do in order to be prepared for our final judgment. For those who choose wisely it will be a glorious experience.
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