Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

“Who Is My Neighbour?” Sunday School #14

Posted by nhilton on April 22, 2007

Matthew 18; Luke 10

These two chapters encompass amazingly deep doctrine for those considering themselves as members of God’s kingdom/church on earth.  These teachings come just after the pinnacle experience of the transfiguration of Jesus, Peter, James & John and US, as readers.  What can we learn from this sequence of events?

These chapters include pericopes of those desiring to be great in The Kingdom, casting out devils, parable of the unmerciful servant, parable of the Good Samaritan and the exchange between the Savior, Mary & Martha, and others. 

In considering Matthew 18, I glanced back at the previous chapter (Matt. 17), seeing this interesting tax paying method.  Why does this story precede the teaching of becoming as a little child?  It seems to me that relationships are paramount in these two chapters: Who serves whom? Who pays tribute to whom?  Who forgives whom?  Who feeds whom? etc. 

Matt.17:25 sets the stage for the relationship of who pays tribute to whom.  Jesus asks, “What thinkest thou, Simon? (note that it’s Simon & not Peter, even tho the name designation has been so dramatically emphasized in Matt. 16) of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute?  of their own children, or of strangers?”  Then Peter (note the name, again) declares strangers to be paying tribute to the earthly Kings.  Jesus consequently points out that the children are then free.  What does this mean?  Jesus continues, “Nothwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou has opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.”  What is Jesus teaching? 

How does this relate to tribute, in context of the following Ch. 18?  The question is posed in verse 1, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  What does this have to do with what has just happened in Ch.17?  The next verses continue speaking about children, kingdoms and offenses given and avoided. 

And just how do Mary and Martha play into all of this, especially right on the heals of The Good Samaritan?  Look forward, into the next chapter, Luke 11, and see what’s being taught here: The Lord’s Prayer with an interesting “…for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us…” clause and the “bread” or “feeding” motif continued. 

I believe the gospel writers were genius in their testimony accounts, leaving nothing to chance but rather carefully crafting their records to teach principles beyond the mere words.  How do you interrelate these pericopes in ways that add to their otherwise superficial lessons?

22 Responses to ““Who Is My Neighbour?” Sunday School #14”

  1. Robert C. said

    nhiltion, many good points and questions here. Thanks esp. for drawing my attention to “children” in Matt 17:26. Actually, although “children” is used both there and in Matt 18:2 in the KJV, the terms are different in Greek (more literally “sons” in 17:26 versus “young-ones” in 18:2, I think).

    But I think you are right to point out the significance of these two passages being put next to each other. Matt 17:26 seems to be implying that, just like the children of kings don’t have to pay taxes, neither should Jesus and his disciples (cf. Exod 30:13–14 for more on temple taxes). However, this priveleged status (as sons of God) should not be something received pridefully. What is admirable about children is that they are not self-conscious about receiving help or proud about gifts that they receive. The TDNT puts it this way:

    Jesus opposed to the low estimation of children common among His people an emphatically high evaluation, Mt. 18:2 ff., 10; 19:13–15; 21:15 f. This can hardly be regarded as “the noblest expression of the current Hellenistic mood.” Such a strong dependence would be almost inconceivable in a Galilean, especially at so early a time. Jesus never speaks of the innocence of children, not even in the relative, let alone the absolute, sense. He refers rather to the fact that they are modest and unspoiled as compared with adults, who do not want anything given to them, Mt. 18:2 ff.; 19:13 ff. This is not a quality which belongs to the child and which might be discovered. The child’s littleness, immaturity and need of assistance, though commonly disparaged, keep the way open for the fatherly love of God, whereas grown-ups so often block it. (p. 649)

  2. nhilton said

    Thanks, Robert C. Actually I read Matt. 17:25-27 to mean that children owe tribute whereas it’s the strangers who are required to give tribute. We are not the children of the earthly kings and therefore owe nothing to them. However, as children of a Heavenly Father, we owe tribute to Him. Then, moving into the next chapter, I read this as a continuation of that theme. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is he/she who pays tribute to their Father. I see this focus of Father/Son relationship throughout the following verses. Matt. 18:7 speaks of further offenses. I believe these offenses refer back to Matt. 17:27, meaning a lack of expected tribute.

    This relationship theme is continued but shifted horizontally between brothers (Matt. 18:15-20) with v. 19 again underlining the parent/child relationship.

  3. Ben McGuire said

    “especially right on the heals of The Good Samaritan?”

    Freudian slip?

    I like the parable of the good Samaritan, with the way the question is asked – “who is my neighbor” and the answer that comes back defines a neighbor, not by who his is, but by what he does, and the injunction to ourselves to be good neighbors …

  4. nhilton said

    Ben, I like the G.S., too, but especially in light of “The Good Samaritan: A Type & Shadow of the Plan of Salvation” by John W. Welch, BYU Studies 1999. If you haven’t read it, certainly do!

    But, back to my point, WHY do these two stories sit side by side? What are the parallels & contrasts. I don’t think it’s coincidence that they are positioned this way. I have my ideas, but first I’d like to hear yours.

  5. nhilton said

    Here is the link for this wonderful article by John Welch re: The Good Samaritan: article.

  6. BrianJ said

    nhilton: An abbreviated version of that article (#4) was published in the Ensign, Feb 2007.

    I’m sorry, but I’m actually confused about which two stories you want us to compare. There are a lot of stories in Matt 17-18 and Luke 10-11.

    I also want to verify that there was no typo when you wrote, “I read Matt. 17:25-27 to mean that children owe tribute whereas it’s the strangers who are required to give tribute.” The way it’s written: children owe, but strangers are required. I don’t see a difference….

    The NET notes suggest that the Greek in 17:25 could be translated “sons” or “citizens.” I’m not really sure what point Jesus is making, but I suspect that in this story, Jesus is the “son” of the “king,” so he is exempt from paying taxes to the temple. But Jesus goes ahead and pays so that he will not “offend” the temple tax collectors. Now we go to Ch 18 where Jesus warns against offending the little ones—could Jesus have the temple workers, among others, in mind? (I’m reminded of—sorry I don’t have time for the reference—when Paul says not to eat pagan meat simply because some church members would be bothered by seeing you do it and they might leave the church.)

  7. nhilton said

    BrianJ, Thanks for the Ensign heads-up.

    The discussion between the two of us initiated with the story of the Good Samaritan & the story of Mary & Martha being comparred. However, I think each of these stories is juxtaposed purposefully to make significant points that are overlooked unless their interrelatedness is considered. (Most people splice the scriptures, not noting what comes before or after & how they give commentary on one another.)

    RE: the children theme going in Ch. 17, I see US as the children–God’s (Christ’s) children. The earthly king is requiring tribute of strangers, not his children. In contrast, our Heavenly King requires tribute not of strangers BUT INSTEAD his children. The comparrision, to me, is that the earthly kings require something opposite what our Heavenly King requires.

    And regarding “offend the little ones” in Ch. 18 I think this can mean several things: literally taken as not to offend children; don’t offend new members of the the church; don’t offend those who have covenanted to become Jesus’ children. I think your interpretation has merit, too. However, I really think it’s the members of the church who he’s speaking of here because of his admonition to become as little children. I think this is both literal, in the humility & teachability & giving tribute sense, but also figurative in the covenantal family relationship used metaphorically throughout scriptures.

  8. BrianJ said

    Nanette: thanks for the clarification. That’s a very interesting reading—namely, that “earthly kings require something opposite what our Heavenly King requires.” I think that’s true, but I’m not sure that is how the text reads. I’ll have to think about it more….

    As for the meaning of “little ones,” I agree completely with you that Jesus’ primary meaning is the members of the Church. But your challenge to look at what came before and how that changes the meaning of the text got me thinking about the tax collectors. (Besides, as a tax collector himself—albeit for an earthly king—the author of these chapters may have had a soft spot for tax collectors.) {smile}

    Regarding your larger point (that the order of text matters), I think you could write an entire book on this. I wish I could teach the NT in Sunday School one Gospel at a time, instead of spliced together like we do. Even the chapter and verse breaks sometimes create problems. It’s off the topic of the thread, but as an example look at the break between Mormon 6 (the destruction of the Nephites) and Mormon 7 (Mormon’s pleading that we repent in order to avoid a similar fate). The anguish in Ch 7 is lost when separated from Ch 6.

  9. nhilton said

    Brianj, TOTALLY! I’m actually coming to the conclusion that I can’t segment the scriptures but must take two steps forward & one step back each time I read anything from the scriptures. I’ve begun having a “happy reader” simply read selected blocks of text in my GD class because otherwise people are excerpting out verses and reading in whatever they think it means, out of context. There are hundreds of ways to read scriptures, segmenting sometimes appropriate; however, for me today, I’ve been trying to keep the continuity between lessons as they flow into one another.

    I think we MUST read the text as I’ve explained. Look at Matt. 18:1-4. What does the child do that is so remarkable? He comes when called. That’s all. Anything else is what we read in, in our attempt to define what it means to “become as little children.” This, I believe, is the simple tribute that Jesus is speaking of in the previous chapter. To take something out of a fish’s mouth is interesting. What is worthy of a king that comes out of a fish’s mouth? I don’t think this is the kind of tribute God wants, obviously. Then, over in 18:6, whoever offends a little child is put in the place of this fish–into the sea. Ah…so much here & elsewhere & I’ve gotta run. TTFN!

  10. BrianJ said

    Nanette: I think that I’ve discovered the difficulty I have with accepting your reading. It centers around the nature of the tax that was being collected. This wasn’t a tax for an earthly king, but a tax to support the temple. All Jews paid the tax (Exodus 30:13-16). The absurdity of Jesus paying the tax was both that he was the king of the temple and he instituted the tax in the first place!

    Another question I have is about how Jesus paid the tax: by Peter catching a fish. I can’t help but try to relate this to the “fishers of men” idea. I’m still trying to think through this… It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t actually pay the tax, and neither does Peter—at least not from their own pockets. Rather, the tax is collected from a fish (the strangest of strangers). Why is that? Is Jesus saying that this is the kind of tribute he wants from Peter: missionary work? Is this Jesus’ very clever way of not offending the tax collectors and also not doing something absurd (viz. paying tribute to himself)? Is Jesus making a point by paying for both himself (who is exempt) and for Peter (who is not exempt)—namely, that Jesus’ condescension is what “pays the price” for all men?

    Anyway, I think our differences are in what we think is the major contrast of the passage. You say it is:

    Strangers pay tribute to earthly kings vs. Children/members pay tribute to Heavenly King

    Whereas I say it is:

    Jesus the King shouldn’t pay tax to support his own house vs. Jesus condescending in order to avoid offending the temple workers.

    (By the way, I’m open to agree that it’s both, but I think that’s too easy a way out. If we can’t struggle and wrestle and even argue (in the kind sense) over the scriptures, I think we aren’t giving them the respect they deserve. Likewise, my arguing with you is hopefully taken as a sign of respect for your ideas.)

  11. BrianJ, Jesus didn’t necessarily accept the validity of the temple of that day. Additionally, that temple tax was intended to pay for upkeep on the temple as well as symbolozing the redemption of the 1st born. In a way he was paying tribute to an earthly king, but the irony is in all that you write.

    I really like your last line: Is Jesus making a point by paying for both himself (who is exempt) and for Peter (who is not exempt)—namely, that Jesus’ condescension is what “pays the price” for all men? That’s great! Additionally, I think the fish might have bearing on what is mentioned in the next chapter, Matt. 18:6, “…it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” In otherwords, that person will be going right back to where the fish (& the money) came from!

    RE: your last paragraph, I appreciate your entertaining my ideas since this post hasn’t gotten much attention & I really was hoping for a dialog since this has been my study/prep for my upcoming GD lesson. Thanks! :)

  12. BrianJ said

    Ponderhilton—I mean, Nanettepaths—errr, Nhonderpalton—

    I got so confused when I read your comment (#11) until I remembered that “ponderpaths” is you! It only took me a second, but I was thinking, “Why is this person who just jumped in writing with such a tone of familiarity?”

    I’m enjoying this discussion too, and I hope I can come back and look at some of the other pericopes (long-time reader of that word, first-time user) you mention. I realized this week that I love and hate my Gospel Doctrine teacher calling. The love part is obvious, but the reason I hate it is that it forces me to constantly move on in my scripture study. So if I don’t get back to your other ideas, you can blame the lesson schedule.

  13. nhilton said

    BrianJ, I’m confused myself! When I loggin to my own blog, which I do to prepare my own SS lesson posts, & then come over here & make comments it posts my username as “ponderpaths” as you encountered. It’s always a shock & sometimes I go edit it in this blogs’ commenting edits but usually I just shrug & move on–too time consuming. So, thanks for your hillarious salutation.

    Try using “pericope” in a classroom lecture/discussion. Saying always makes me laugh & half the time I mispronounce it as pear-a-cope (lone “o” silent “e”) Ha! I’ve defined it for my class students & use it often so they’re familiar with it but not one of them had heard of it at first. I don’t know why we don’t just use the word “story.”?

  14. Jim F. said

    nhilton: “Pericope” and “story” don’t mean the same. A story is always a pericope, but a pericope isn’t always a story. It can be some other meaningful “chunk.” In fact, when I’m teaching a church class, I try to avoid “pericope,” and I often use “chunk” or something like that if “story” won’t do.

  15. Robert C. said

    (nhilton, thanks for the pronunciation tip. I usually just say “passage”, but I thought pericope was pronounced as you indicated rather than “puh-RIK-uh-pee” which I guess is correct. This is one of the problems learning mostly by internet and books instead of from lectures or face-to-face interaction….)

  16. brianj said

    Jim: Is a story always a pericope? I thought a pericope is a section of something larger, so if the story I tell is the complete story, then it isn’t a pericope?

  17. Jim F. said

    brianj, since any scriptural story is part of a larger text, and a pericope is just a section of a religious text, I think even a complete story is a pericope.

    The OED gives this as the U.S. pronunciation: pə’rikəpi (the upside down e’s represent something like an “uh” sound). The British pronunciation isn’t much different.

  18. Jim F. said

    By the way, outside of scripture study discussions, perhaps the main place the word pericope gets used is in discussions of liturgy. There it means a passage that is read as part of public worship. The overlap of the two meanings is obvious.

  19. nhilton said

    I always like to include “gee whiz” trivia in my lessons in case it’s the only thing that perks someone’s interest or sends them home learning something new…thus my usage of the word during SS Class. Plus, the students seem to appreciate learning this kind of thing & then applying it week after week. This Sunday’s lesson will include some tidbits on millstones which I have found particularly interesting in light of Matt. 18:6.

  20. RuthS said

    This is a most interesting discussion. As I read often but have not written before I hope it is all right to make an observation. Regards the meaning of Matt 17:14-26 the word free in the King James cannot mean the children “sons” of the king owe anything. Talmage takes the meaning to be exempt (or free of the tax) as does the NIV bible. So it is clear the Messiah would be exempt from the temple tax as were rabbis and priests. So the question that pops up in my mind was what lesson Peter was supposed to learn and of what value might that lesson be for us. Perhaps it has something to do with strengthening Peter’s convictions. Perhaps it has something to do with avoiding anything that might prove to be a provocation and cause further troubles. Maybe this is more connected to the offending eye or hand passage, Matt 18:7-9, than to any other.

  21. BrianJ said

    RuthS–you are certainly welcome to comment on any post on this blog (make observations, ask questions, challenge presuppositions, etc.).

    I found reference to priests and Levites being exempt from the temple tax, but nothing about rabbis. Could you provide a reference? I would not be at all surprised, mind you, if the Pharisees had reasoned their way into such an exemption, but I would like to know whether such was truly the case. Either way, your point is important: there were those who were exempt.

  22. nhilton said

    RuthS, I agree that these two pericopes, chunks (WHATEVER!)are intricately linked in that Jesus is modeling behavior that goes out of its way NOT to offend, even when rationalization can be given for alternate behavior. For me, this lesson has been paramount this week & that’s why I chose to research the hyperbole used in Matt. 18:6 re: the millstone. This millstone Jesus suggests be hung around the neck of those who cause the “little ones who believe in him to sin” is literally translated as “millstone of a donkey,” not a small man-manipulated stone. I’ve seen these stones anywhere from 50 lbs. to 1,700 lbs.! The other hyperbolies of cutting off body parts in v. 7-9 are so extreme. Basically, death or dismemberment are acceptable alternatives to causing someone else to sin or sinning yourself. What kind of sinning is this Jesus is talking about in light of the previous chapter, verses? What is really going on here? It seems so harsh! Like the withered fig tree.

    Additionally, I think we must define “sons” here. Kings of the earth have sons. These sons are exempt from the tax. Is the King here Heavenly Father & the son Jesus & Peter? Is the King here Herod with his earthly sons or those who do his bidding called his sons? Jesus seems to imply that he and Peter are the sons since v. 27 begins with “but so that we may not offend” implying that according to Peter’s answer they are exempt from the tax, making them the sons of the earthly kings. What do you think?

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