“And who is my neighbor?” This is the great question of the Good Samaritan story, a story that we have all listened to carefully many times, studying the different characters, the plot line and ultimately the loving compassion and mercy that one human shared with another. When we view this timeless question from the perspective of it its surrounding context, the richness of Christ’s message is enhanced. The stories and passages neighboring the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10 are focused on building the Kingdom of God through preaching the Gospel and gathering souls. In this context, the Good Samaritan story is more than just a parable about being neighborly or showing loving compassion. It is a parable about the Kingdom of God, or at least the type of individual who is invited into the Kingdom of God. Similarly, Matthew 18 is a chapter that focuses on the conditions that mark the Kingdom of God and the characteristics of those who comprise that kingdom.
Let us now reread these chapters, not so much as to focus on the beautiful and well- known story of the Good Samaritan but rather to understand the conditions of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 18) and the Gospel call for us to be gathered in unto God (Luke 10). In our study we will explore these various passages in a commentary style, explicating them by appeal to other scriptures and ancient languages.
Matthew 18—Characteristics & Conditions of the Kingdom of God
Those in the Kingdom of God are Like a Little Children—Matthew 18:1-6
As the chapter opens we find the disciples of Christ wondering who will be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. Apparently this was a persisting question among them, for we find a similar episode on the night before Christ’s suffering when they had gathered to partake of the Passover meal:
24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.
29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
30 That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:24-30)
In the days of Christ social boundaries were clearly marked and on display at meal time. The guests would be arranged according to their social station. Those of the greatest social stature would be placed closest to the patron of the home. Guests placed farther away were of lesser rank and prestige. Those who served were simple functionaries without social standing. This eating arrangement, which most likely imitated royal banquet patterns where political figures were placed at the banquet table in relation to the king based on their relative authority, created a visual display that left no one in doubt of their relative “greatness” in the social order.1
Apparently, the disciples of Christ misunderstood the true meaning of the Kingdom of Heaven. They disputed about who would be the greatest among them and who would sit closest to Christ at the meal. So Christ taught them that true power and greatness is found in humility and service.
Returning to Matthew 18, we find a similar teaching from Christ to his disciples when they disputed over greatness. He placed a child in their midst and offered them the promise that whoever would be like a child would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. “He that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).
This message is also found in the Book of Mormon. Upon transferring the Nephite kingdom to his son Mosiah, King Benjamin gathered his people together that he might share with them the gospel message and his witness of Jesus Christ. In context, however, his speech also served as an exhortation to live according to a higher social and political order that peace might reign throughout the Nephite kingdom. With loving tenderness King Benjamin reminded his people that only those who are childlike inherit the true Kingdom:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
Unity Prevails in the Kingdom of God—Matthew 18:7-14
This next passage explores the unity which prevails in the Kingdom of God. Some may read Matthew 18:8-9 quite literally and suppose that they should chop off their hand if they ever steal or pluck out their eye if they ever see anything unholy. However, Christ was not referring to the literal parts of our body, but rather to the “body of saints.” The JST of Matthew 18:9 helps to clarify this concept:
And a man’s hand is his friend, and his foot, also; and a man’s eye, are they of his own household.
Paul, the ancient Apostle, also spoke of a similar concept when writing to the Roman saints. Apparently, the Christians at Rome had struggled with division and controversy in their congregation. Perhaps they even struggled with the idea over who was greatest in the Kingdom of God as had Christ’s disciples. So Paul wrote to remind them that they were to be a unified whole, a single body, yet differing in abilities, gifts and offices:
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office:
5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. (Romans 12:1-5) 2
The Kingdom of God is Holy—Matthew 18:15-20
It is not sufficient, however, for the Kingdom of God to be unified, it must also be holy. Thus the body of saints must likewise be holy. Each person must individually be clean and pure or they will be cut off from the body so that they might not pollute the entire body.
What we first notice in these verses is that Christ establishes a forum for dealing with offences and difficulties within the Christian community (i.e. within the Kingdom of God on earth), which threaten its sanctity and holiness. In verses 15-17, Christ explains that private trespasses are to be dealt with privately, while public trespasses are to be dealt with publicly, as long as there are witnesses.
We find an example of this in the New Testament where Paul attempted to rid the body of polluted and impenitent members according to the law of witnesses that the Kingdom of God might not be corrupted by any form of impurity:
1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.
2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed,
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?
7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
(1 Corinthians 5)3
Returning to Christ’s message in Matthew 18 concerning regulations for the Kingdom of God, he goes on to say that whosoever in the Kingdom will not abide by the standards of the Kingdom (i.e. the Church) should be “unto thee as an heathen and a publican” (Matt. 18:17). What does this mean? Christ is saying that if one desires to be part of the Kingdom of God but refuses to resolve their offences and difficulties by the standards of the Christian community, then the Kingdom of God serves no purpose for that individual. It would be better for that individual to remain among the non-Christian communities (i.e. the heathen and pagan communities). In his exhortations to the Corinthian Christians to establish the conditions of the Kingdom of God on earth, Paul stresses this idea that difficulties and conflicts among the Christians should be resolved within the community itself instead of taking the “dirty laundry” before unholy heathen judges:
1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.
7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:1-11)4
Christ continues his message in Matthew 18:18-20 explaining that all things in the Kingdom of God are to be regulated according to the power of the priesthood, with Christ at the center. This is the meaning of “there am I in the midst of them.” The word “midst” refers to the very center or to the focal point. If the members do not have Christ at the center of their judgments and relationships then truly they are as the heathen and publicans that are without Christ.
The Merciful Inherit the Kingdom of God—Matthew 18:21-35
This passage begins with a query from inquisitive Peter who desired to know his responsibilities to forgive others. He asked if he was required to forgive seven times; the Lord responds, nay, but “seventy times seven.” Obviously we are not to interpret this literally that we are to forgive seven times or four-hundred and ninety times only. These numbers were symbolic and expressive. The number seven, in Jewish understanding, represented perfection, fullness and completion, while four-hundred and ninety is a forceful intensification of this perfection.5 In essence, Peter is asking if he is to forgive fully and completely. Christ affirms this, while significantly intensifying the responsibility to always perfectly, fully and completely forgive, as symbolized by four-hundred and ninety times. Perhaps one of the most challenging things in life is to forgive fully, perfectly and completely even if those who have harmed us continue to believe that their actions were justified and thus show no remorse nor restitution. If we do not forgive, however, we cannot experience the purity of joy that God has designed for us, nor can we receive forgiveness of our own sins:
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
To illustrate this teaching about forgiveness, Christ relates to his disciples a parable of a kingdom. In this parable a servant who is in extraordinary debt to the king begs forgiveness. Showing unparalleled compassion, the king freely forgives the servant. However, this same servant later finds his fellow servant who is in debt to him and demands immediate payment. When the fellow servant cannot pay, the recently forgiven servant exercises unrighteous dominion and has the man incarcerated. For this grievous assault on justice and mercy, the king takes the unforgiving servant and delivers him to the tormentors.6 In monetary terms, this story is all the more remarkable when we realize that the unforgiving servant owed the king nearly 37 billion dollars while his fellow servant owed the measly sum of $10,000.7 Truly the principle that “where much is given much is required” even applies to compassion, mercy and forgiveness. If we hope to qualify for the Kingdom of God we must exercise mercy as did the exemplary king of this parable.
Luke 10—Gathering into the Kingdom of God
We reviewed in Matthew 18 various characteristics and conditions of the Kingdom of God and those who inhabit it. But the Kingdom is empty until souls are gathered into it. Luke 10 is a chapter of gathering and with this lens we will view the passages of this chapter.
Calling and Empowering the Harvesters—Luke 10:1-16
The harvest was great and the laborers were few. So Christ called additional disciples to labor with him in gathering souls into the Kingdom of God. Before sending them on their assigned missions, he gave them instructions fit for the preaching circumstances of their day and time. He also gave them power to heal the sick. This is a sign of the Kingdom of God on earth, which is a Kingdom of healing and wholeness. It is interesting to note how some of the New Testament healing miracles come in the context of Kingdom of God passages.
Unfortunately, not all people will hearken to the call to gather unto God. Christ expressed that lamentation with utterances of woe upon impenitent Jewish cities such as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. He compared them to the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, who would readily accept the Kingdom of God if preached to, even though they were not of the elect. This is reminiscent of what we hear in the Book of Mormon when Alma and Amulek called the wicked people of Ammonihah to repentance:
13 Behold, do ye not remember the words which he spake unto Lehi, saying that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land? And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
14 Now I would that ye should remember, that inasmuch as the Lamanites have not kept the commandments of God, they have been cut off from the presence of the Lord. Now we see that the word of the Lord has been verified in this thing, and the Lamanites have been cut off from his presence, from the beginning of their transgressions in the land.
15 Nevertheless I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for you, if ye remain in your sins, yea, and even more tolerable for them in this life than for you, except ye repent. (Alma 9:13-15)
Priesthood Power entrusted to the Gatherers—Luke 10:17-20
When the disciples returned from their appointed missions they rejoiced in the success they had found. Christ then blessed each of them with additional priesthood power over the forces of the adversary, which are symbolized by serpents and scorpions. This harks back to the Garden of Eden story where Adam is given power to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). In terms of priesthood power, this refers to the ability to overcome Satan and his evil work. Additionally, Christ draws upon another Old Testament theme, this time from Isaiah, to paint the cosmic drama in which Satan was overpowered by the forces of God and cast out of heaven (Isaiah 14:12-27). Thus, with the endowment of priesthood power the gatherers are prepared to cast out the prince of this world that it might be prepared for the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is Revealed to the Childlike—Luke 10:21-24
What we learn in these verses is that the Kingdom of God had long been in anticipation among prophets, priests and kings. Yet it is only the humble, the meek, the childlike who are given to see the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. This is the same message that Christ shared not many years later with the Nephite faithful in the New World:
15 Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name.
16 I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.
17 And as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me redemption cometh, and in me is the law of Moses fulfilled.
18 I am the light and the life of the world. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.
21 Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin.
22 Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me ye ends of the earth, and be saved. (3 Nephi 9:15-22, emphasis added)
The Kingdom of God is for Good Neighbors—Luke 10:25-37 ((For background information on who were the Samaritans, please see “Who Were the Samaritans” by Taylor Halverson, published on Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture.))
This is a beautiful and well-known story of the most unlikely of characters offering loving compassion to another.8 When we read this story not just as an invitation to be neighborly to all, but as a representative example of the type of individuals who are invited into the Kingdom of God, the story takes on new meaning. In other words, the powerful messages expressed in Matthew 18 and Luke 10 concerning the Kingdom of God can serve as lens through which we now can view the Good Samaritan story with new eyes. Hence, in the context of the Kingdom of God passages we have explored thus far, the significance of the Good Samaritan story becomes very rich indeed.9
Duties in the Kingdom of God—Luke 10:38-42
In this final passage of the chapter we find Christ at the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet hearing him teach the words of eternal life, while Martha busied herself with the duties of hospitality that were ever so important in that culture. Yet, she was frustrated that Mary did not aid her in these duties. Christ used the opportunity to teach a powerful lesson about the Kingdom of God. He turned to Martha and said,
Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:41-42
Let us take a moment to look at alternate meanings of a few of the underlying Greek words of this passage. Christ states that Martha is troubled. An alternate translation would say that she was “distracted.” Christ also states that, “one thing is needful.” The underlying Greek for “needful” could also be translated as “duty or task.” Clearly Christ is teaching that we should not let important things, even the culturally important need to by hospitable, distract us from the most important things, which are the duties of the Kingdom of God. Mary had chosen the better part, the duty to be with the living Lord who delivers the living word.
The scriptures are rich and inexhaustible in meaning and application. As we press forward in the duty to search the living words of Christ, our personal burdens will appear lighter as we are strengthened through the Spirit of God and our souls will be empowered to live according to the laws of the Kingdom of God. We will find our hearts purified, our joy will be full and we will be, as it were, little children in the presence of our God. Then we shall see the Kingdom of God and inherit the everlasting joys of that Kingdom prepared for those who faithfully endure until the end.
See the following studies for more information about the culture of food and meals in Ancient Mediterranean society: Peter Garnsey, Food and Society in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Meals in a Social Context: Aspects of the Communal Meal in the Hellenistic and Roman World, edited by Inge Nielsen & Hanne Sigismund Nielsen (Oxford: Aarhus University Press, 1998). ↩
For an alternative translation of Paul here is the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the same passage: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Copyrighted 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. ↩
The NRSV translates this passage as: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? 3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons– 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’” ↩
The NRSV translates this passage as: “When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels– to say nothing of ordinary matters? 4 If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, 6 but a believer goes to court against a believer– and before unbelievers at that? 7 In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud– and believers at that. 9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers– none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” ↩
It is also interesting to note that the Hebrew word for “seven” and “covenant” both come from the same word, sheva. ↩
Literally “the torturers.” This wicked servant was to be tortured until he could pay off his debt in full. And since he had no way of paying off that debt in full (and never would so long as he was under the power of the torturers), this could lead to the interpretation that the servant would be tormented indefinitely. ↩
The wicked servant’s debt was 3,700,000 times greater than that of his fellow servant. ↩
In the story, the Samaritan pours wine and oil into the wounds of the broken man. Significantly, in Hebrew wine is often called “blood of grapes” and oil “blood of olives.” Blood is a symbol of life. The Good Samaritan symbolically poured new life into this man who was half dead. ↩
Notice the rich tapestry of scriptural connections between the Good Samaritan story and Old Testament scriptures such as Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18; 34. ↩