When we initially read the New Testament learning goals found in the March 4-10, 2019 Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families resource, we were particularly impressed with the study idea and activities under the heading “I can defend my beliefs by teaching true principles.” We read Matthew 9:1-13 and Mark 2:15-17 and highlighted the criticisms of the accusers and the Savior’s responses. We also pondered the suggested questions: “What do you notice about the way the Savior taught? How could following His example help you if you have to defend a gospel principle or Church practice?”
How Christ Responded to Criticism
Our study of these verses revealed that Jesus was continually confronted by criticism of things He said or did. He healed the paralytic man by saying, “Thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2). After He made this statement, scribes—“Their aim was to reproduce and teach others to reproduce accurately the words of the wise” (“Scribe,” Bible Dictionary)—accused Jesus of blasphemy (Matthew 9:3).
In Jewish law, blasphemy was a very serious charge denoting “contemptuous speech … toward God, such as his temple, his law or his prophet,” and “the punishment for willful and intentional blasphemy was death” (“Blasphemy,” Bible Dictionary). In fact, during His final trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was accused and judged guilty of blasphemy. In the case of healing this bedridden man, the listening doctors of law believed that only God could forgive sins (Daniel 9:9). By making such a statement, Christ was announcing that He had done what no one but God could do.
In response to their authoritative challenge, Jesus first cautioned his accusers: “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4). They seemed incapable of acknowledging the good works of His many miracles. Then, Jesus explained, “For is it not easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee, than to say, Arise and walk?” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matthew 9:5 [in Matthew 9:5, footnote a]). He did not retract His initial divine pardon but added the following statement: “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house” (Matthew 9:6-7). Jesus was not intimidated or afraid of criticism from influential officials. Both His words and His healing of the forgiven man testified that He was literally the Messiah. As a consequence, many of the common people who witnessed this miracle, “they marveled, and glorified God” (Matthew 9:8).
Closely following this miraculous healing, Jesus was criticized for eating in the home of Matthew with other publicans (tax gatherers) and communing with other common people regarded as sinners. Those lodging this complaint were a Jewish religious party known as Pharisees: “The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules and to encourage self-sufficiency and spiritual pride” (“Pharisees,” Bible Dictionary). They believed that it was offensive to have any associations with such a class of outcasts.
Jesus responded with an ironic proverb: “They who are whole have no need of the physician, but they who are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). On one level, the analogy that a doctor treats the ill, not the healthy, suggests that those with whom He is eating and teaching are in the greatest need to hear His teachings. In reality, no one needed spiritual healing more than the hypocritical Pharisees. Again, Jesus answered His critics directly by trying to teach them true gospel principles.
How Should We Respond to Criticism
In thinking about the challenges that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints face today, we were impressed to find an easily accessible Church media resource: “Everyday Example: When Beliefs Are Questioned.” This 13-minute video portrays how Samantha (a member of the Church) is challenged during a university class about the issues of gay rights and marriage. Initially, Samantha tries to reason with her challenger (Miki), but soon their exchanges become very argumentative. As Samantha leaves, she feels very angry and frustrated.
In the next scene, Samantha meets with her bishop. He notes that it is not easy to be patient when one’s beliefs are challenged. Samantha admits that she wanted to win the argument and shut down her challenger. The bishop reminds Samantha of Christ’s admonition to be humble as a “little child” (Matthew 18:4). He also refers to counsel that Jesus gave part in the Sermon on the Mount to “Agree with thine adversary quickly” (Matthew 5:25). She needs to keep her anger in check and try and see things from the other person’s point of view. He suggests that Church leaders have given talks on such issues that she can review (see Sarah Jane Weaver, “Elder Christofferson Says Handbook Changes Regarding Same-Sex Marriages Help Protect Children, Church News, Nov. 12, 2015). As a result, Samantha decides to “study it out” in her own mind (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). She also prays for understanding and patience.
In the final scene, Samantha finds an opportunity to meet with Miki and apologize. Samantha emphasizes that she wants to listen to and understand Miki’s beliefs without any sense of intimidation. She also acknowledges that she is willing to stand up for Miki’s rights. What Samantha wants most is fairness for all people. She wants to live in a community that respects the rights for individuals to believe differently.
Video - https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2016-01-0020-everyday-example-when-beliefs-are-questioned?lang=eng&_r=1
We found this video and other resources available on www.LDS.org very instructive. They provide specific explanations and examples of how to seek fairness for all. They show constructive ways that members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ can defend their beliefs by teaching true gospel principles.