Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: Establishing Zion - an Uncomfortable Conversation

Today we dealt with the concept of establishing Zion as part of "building the kingdom of God".

We started by reading the entry under "Zion" in the Bible dictionary. We ignored the definitions that were focused strictly on geography (since the other descriptions of Zion can apply to pretty much anywhere the conditions exist) and discussed two specific verses: D&C 97:21 ("this is Zion: THE PURE IN HEART") and Moses 7:18 (the description of the city of Enoch).

D&C 97:21 - I asked them first to define "pure". One of the students who loves science said it is a condition where there are no impurities, e.g. pure water, pure gold, etc. We talked about other words that are used to mean the same kind of thing - clean, uncontaminated, spotless, chaste, innocent, etc. We then talked about what it means to be pure in "heart" - with the heart being the center of feeling and what send blood to the rest of the body, helping circulation keep body parts from deteriorating. We talked about the concept of studying things out in our hearts and minds - thinking about things but also paying attention to how we feel about them. I pointed out that being "pure in heart" is not modified in any way with a statement about how people think; rather, it is focused solely on their feelings and desires - what they want and how they see and act toward people. That was important, since it laid the foundation to talk about the city of Enoch description.

Moses 7:18 - The Lord called them Zion, because:

"they were of one heart and one mind"

We talked about how "one mind" was the second thing listed - that "one heart" comes first. I mentioned that I like associating with people who love me, even if they think differently, more than I like associating with people who think a lot like me but whose hearts are in the wrong place. I also asked them if they would enjoy living in a place where everyone thought exactly alike about everything. They all agreed that such a condition would be extremely boring - and I then pointed out that there was a plan proposed in our pre-mortal life that, in practical terms, would have enforced that sort of uniformity. Given that, we talked about how being "of one mind" can be a good thing - that if our hearts are pure, and our desires are directed by love, then our minds look for ways to help and serve people. Thus, no matter how we think differently about any particular topic, we still can be united in what follows in this verse - meaning this verse is progressive developmentally. The "communal" things follow the "individual" things.

"and dwelt in righteousness"

We defined righteousness. It started with "keeping God's commandments" and ended with "being right with God" - which, in context of this verse, means "doing what God wants to be done".

I then asked what that means - what God wants to be done with regard to establishing Zion. That stumped them for a minute, so I asked them to read the verse again and see if they could answer that question. Of course, the answer is found in the last statement in the verse:

"and there was no poor among them"

I told them that the rest of the lesson was going to be a bit uncomfortable - that this is an area where we tend to rationalize away not dealing with the core of what it means to establish Zion.

I asked them not to answer me (to keep the next questions rhetorical), and I then asked them when the last time was that they helped someone, in some way, who was "poor" in some way. I told them I was asking as broadly and generally as possible, and that "in some way" was important to my question. I gave them a couple of minutes to think about that, in complete silence.

We then read Job 13:4 ("ye are all physicians of no value"), Jeremiah 8:22 ("is there no physician there"), D&C 31:10 ("you shall be a physician unto the church") - and then we talked about Matthew 9:10-12:

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick."

I asked them what the central issue was in this story. They understood that it was that some people thought Jesus shouldn't have been with "publicans and sinners" - so I asked why that would be. That led to a discussion about the concept of being "unclean" and the Hebrew focus on avoiding uncleanliness. I pointed out that their focus was on what they ate - and people who had communicable diseases - and people who were not "the chosen people" - and anything or anyone that might make them unclean in some way.

I asked them why people would choose to avoid other people, and they came up with avoiding physical danger or some kind of abuse, not wanting other people to think less of them or misunderstand them, worry about improper influences, etc. I told them I understand totally not getting near someone holding a knife and talking wildly or separating from someone who is abusive, but . . .

Jesus tipped that on its head by breaking every possible taboo at once. He not only associated with people who were considered unclean, but he actually ATE with them. He touched what they were touching and put into his body what they had touched. Remember, many meals were of the "breaking bread" variety (and "supping" by dipping that bread into a communal soup pot - even double and triple dipping), not handled with gloves, cut by knives and eaten with individual forks and spoons that are sterilized between each usage.

We then turned to the answer Jesus gave to their question about why he was eating with them:

"They that be whole need not a physician, but the sick."

I asked the students if they could remember an instance when Jesus went to a rich person's house and ate there - or did anything, really, that focused on serving the rich without it being a case where the rich person approached Jesus (like Nicodemus and the rich young man asking what more he could do. They couldn't think of a single instance. I told them that Jesus' entire ministry was focused on people "society" labeled and scorned - who were "poor" / "sick" in some way.

We then talked about the concept of being "in the world but not of the world". I told them that, to phrase it like my daughter's statement that started our lesson, I think we often try so hard not to be OF the world that we avoid being IN the world - and that the ideal isn't to be not of the world but to be both not "worldly" in nature but also live fully in the world. The opposites are the hermit who avoids everyone and the priests and nuns who spend their entire lives surrounded only by those who are the most like them.

I asked the students to think about another rhetorical questions:

Who are the people in your family, school, community, etc. whom you avoid - and why do you avoid them?

In each case, if you were asked why you avoid them, what would your answer be?

If the reason(s) matched anything that would have been a motivation for the Pharisees' question, what can they do to overcome the natural avoidance tendency and learn to "eat with the publicans and sinners" - and, more importantly, get to know them, love them and serve them better?

I ended the lesson by saying again that this is an uncomfortable conversation for most of us, including me, to a degree, because it challenges us to step outside our comfort zones and risk harm in the pursuit of Zion. It requires a level of faith that isn't easy - that we, as insignificant individuals, actually can make a difference and "change the world" (even if it's just our own "sphere of influence") in a significant way. I asked them to think about that throughout the week, especially as they walk around school and see the "outcasts" - the publicans and sinners in the school. I asked them to spend more time with them, to "enrich" them in whatever way they can - financially, emotionally, socially, physically, etc. I told them that if they spend all of their time associating only with "those that be whole" and keep a distance from "the sick" (for whatever reason), they will be modern Pharisees and will not be establishing Zion in any real way.

1 comment:

ji said...

I don't think Jesus visited only with the poor and the sick -- he visited with the rich, too -- rather, he visited with normal men and women where they were -- in our society today, we're in the world, too -- I mingle with others in my workplace, and I shop at their stores, and I frequent their public gatherings, and my kid plays with their kids. I'm doing what Jesus wants me to do.