Sunday, January 25, 2015

The lousy samaritan

Just before Christmas I found myself hurrying home for, to be honest I don't remember what, when I got stopped by a red light. There, in spite of the cold, on the grassy median, was a man with a cardboard sign begging. His sign indicated that he was willing to work for food. My first thought was, "Do I have any money or perhaps a Chipotle gift card?" I have been taught by my children that when you see someone begging you should give. But before I checked my wallet, and besides I was in the wrong lane to help, the light turned green.

As I drove away, I had a fleeting thought that I could turn around, park across in a nearby lot, cross the street, and find out that man's story. I'm sure I could have helped him somehow. But a quick excuse--my fingers freeze at about 45 degrees (thank you Raynaud's) and it was way below that--and I was on my way.

I have reflected on this experience several times since then. The Lord I realize now was testing me. And I failed.

Sometimes when reading the story of the good Samaritan I have judged the "certain priest" and "Levite" who passed by on the other side of the road. Intellectually I could say, "There's a little more priest in me than I would like to admit." But now if I am being completely honest, I must see myself in their shoes. (Not so much the Levite's who "came and looked on" the wounded man before passing by on the other side; I am more like the certain priest who merely passed by.)

(Incidentally for an interesting examination of the parable of the Good Samaritan, I recommend Daniel K. Judd's BYU devotional on mental health. (Alas the text is not available, so you have to listen to it.) The last few minutes he reviews this parable. I had never thought of asking myself if I was like the host who was willing to help, but only for a price.)

I want to be the kind of man who crosses the street to help another in need. So I guess this is something of a confession. I make a lousy Samaritan. Hopefully the Lord will forgive me for my priestly behavior.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

2 Nephi 5:10

And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses.

Why does Nephi not simply say, "And we kept the commandments?" What does adding "we did observe to keep the commandments" imply? Perhaps from this semi awkward phrasing we are supposed to learn that truly keeping the commandments requires a watchfulness, a mindful attitude of recognizing what we are doing and why. Adam and Eve were certainly keeping the law of sacrifice when the offered the firstlings of their flock. But the Lord was not content with leaving them in the dark about why He had given them this law. Thus He sent an angel to instruct them. So I find myself wondering, "Am I mindful of the commandments as I kept them? Am I waiting on the Lord to give me further light and knowledge as I keep the commandments or am I just obeying out of habit (which is probably better than not, but is it what the Lord wants)?"

From this verse we also need to ask why Nephi said they kept the judgments, statutes, and commandments? Again, why didn't he just say, "And we kept the commandments?" How are these three things different. I admit, after comparing usage and definitions from several dictionaries, I'm flummoxed.

Judgments seems to be the law as given by the Lord (our judge). Statutes are written laws. Commandments are divine decrees.

Perhaps they are just three ways of saying the same thing. So why list all three?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2 Nephi 2:1-3

Tonight my reading was 2 Nephi 2. I didn't get very far. I wonder if we should learn anything from the verb tenses in the first three verses, especially the first two. Those are about afflictions, a subject unfortunately near and dear to my heart.

I find it interesting that Jacob "hast suffered afflictions" meaning he had suffered (past tense), but that God "shall consecrate" his afflictions for his gain, meaning the suffering would benefit him (future tense). Often when we suffer we don't recognize an affliction as a blessing. A lot of cheap self-help and smarmy sacrament meeting talks teach that in our suffering we should try to find the lessons in our agony; look for the proverbial silver lining. Trying to find good in pain may help keep our attitude in check, but when we face trials perhaps we would be better off just admitting that our life stinks, accept it, and... that's it. No searching for hidden treasures or sacred meaning in our trials; God hasn't yet consecrated our trials for our gain. They're still just trials. This need not be pessimistic, We can recognize the awfulness of our situation and at the same time reassure ourselves that some day (i.e., not now) God will make something good out of our pain... and just move on.

I also find it interesting that in verse 3, Lehi says to Jacob, who is only a young man, "thou art redeemed" (present tense). I wonder what this says about redemption. Often we think of redemption coming only after final judgement and worse "after all we can do". Perhaps redemption is a state of being that we should strive for today and every day. (Tying the three verses together, I imagine that knowing today you are redeemed would aide in enduring challenges that arise today.)

I admit I don't know how we get to that knowledge/feeling/state of being of redemption today, but am heartened that Jacob was redeemed because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ and not because of anything he had done. That recognition of the source of our redemption is probably the first step.