My shopping cart
Your cart is currently empty.Continue Shopping
Jesus, like us, entered the world innocent and an infant in every sense of the word. He developed “grace for grace” (D&C 93:12), but His learning and development were more rapid, such that prior to His ministry “neither could He be taught; for He needed not that any man should teach Him” (JST, Matthew 3:24). We suppose that advantages of intellect and development were due to premortal endowment—“good genes,”—and to His “diligence and obedience” (D&C 130:18–19), which says something about how hard of a worker Jesus was.
A common frustration for sharp people is dealing with others who are slow to comprehend all that they know.1 Jesus must have found Himself in this situation. The question remains, then, given His perfect character, to what extent were His frustrations felt? On several occasions, He asked His disciples, “Are ye also without understanding?” (Matthew 15:16), and “Do ye not yet understand?” (Matthew 16:9). Such phrases could be interpreted a few different ways. A harsh reading would suggest that Jesus is insulting another’s intellect. I reject this interpretation because it is inconsistent with Jesus’ character. A more plausible interpretation could be that Jesus is thinking out loud, as a form of recognition or acknowledgment of the limitation of His hearers. According to this reading, Jesus was not indicting the individuals so much as demonstrating some of His own self-awareness.
This interpretation suggests that Jesus didn’t know everything during His mortal life. Rather, He had the ability to discern others’ needs in the moment and make necessary corrections to His instruction—a sign of a Master Teacher, which Jesus was. Some of Jesus’ questions are of this variety. An additional possibility is that Jesus was using a reflective question to draw the learner’s attention to a barrier that at that moment was impeding their learning. Usually this barrier came from a cultural norm or tradition within prevailing Judaism. We see evidence of this possibility within the gospels—with washing of hands (see Mark 7:1–18), for example, and eating bread from Heaven (see John 6:35–58).
The particular challenge that Jesus faced here is actually quite common among teachers and learners of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith likewise had to figure out how to reach individuals bound by traditions. He described his own experience thus: “There has been great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. . . . I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of the them . . . will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions.”
Much of Jesus’ experience is consistent with this sort, and His expressions reflect the difficulty of having something laid out in your mind so perfectly but then struggling to convey into the minds of others the picture before you. Like us, Jesus also knows what it is like for others to perceive in you some frustration and withhold asking further questions (see Mark 9:32). Unfortunately, we often limit our learning because of misaligned perceptions shaped by our experiences and traditions, and by failing to ask questions when we do not understand. If we can muster the curiosity and faith, we can ask Jesus the questions that would clarify our confusions and challenge our own perceptions.
Consider a few examples:
Jesus’ frustrations were not limited to comprehension challenges but also to practical implementation. “And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil” (Matthew 17:16–18). Every parent who has taught a teenager to drive knows the frustration, and potential danger, of continual flawed execution. In spite of consistent directives to “turn, turn, turn!” some learning comes only after “sad experience,” of which Jesus was perfectly aware. There are times when Jesus is bemused by His disciples’ difficulty to draw upon past experience to understand His teachings. We see this in the counsel He gave His disciples shortly after feeding large multitudes of men, women, and children—on multiple occasions—by expanding and replenishing the available food supply.
After likening the sign seeking of the Pharisees and Sadducees to leaven which should be avoided, the disciples erroneously concluded that Jesus was frustrated with them for not bringing enough bread for their journey. Jesus, somewhat exacerbated, reminded them, “Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?” (Matthew 16:6– 10). Afterwards, the “light went on,” so to speak, and the disciples “understood how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:12).
Jesus, more than anyone—ever—knows what it is like to “lead people along,” which, by the way, He continues to do for us (see D&C 78:18). Jesus also understands the frustration of knowing that your counsel is right but is nevertheless ignored: “Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels” (1 Nephi 19:7).
To Pharisees and others trapped within their narrow Sabbath Day confines, Jesus posed a scenario consistent with their interpretation of the Mosaic law and then asked a basic question, “How much then is a man better than a sheep?” (Matthew 12:12). Because the answer was both morally and logically obvious, He answered His own question, “Wherefore, it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath Day” (Matthew 12:12). Sadly, and somewhat maddeningly, “the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Matthew 12:13). Jesus, in this instance, identified the provision within the law to do well on the Sabbath (on behalf of a sheep), the moral and logical interpretation of the law, and the evidence of Godly power which verified His interpretation through the healing of the man by command only. Yet, they still disbelieved. Jesus can justifiably lament, “What more could I have done for my vineyard? For I have done all” (Jacob 5:49).
Jesus also knows the experience of being the most capable and knowledgeable while having to be instructed by the less self-aware and, in His case, infinitely less knowledgeable. For instance, in an exchange with Pharisees in the eighth chapter of John, Jesus is challenged with the following questions:
Taken singly, each question seems like an honest attempt to understand. Viewed collectively, however, it is apparent that these leaders of the people altogether lost the plot. Jesus, midway through this exchange, inquires of them, somewhat exasperated, “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because you cannot hear my word” (John 8:43).
A general example might help make the point more clearly. Imagine two missionaries, both relatively new, serving in a foreign language mission. One is assigned to be senior companion, which makes sense, since the other missionary has served less time and is less capable with the language. When speaking the language, the junior companion’s pronunciation is so poor that listeners are left with mouths agape, looking to the senior companion to restate everything that has been said. Given the junior companion’s limitations, the senior companion shoulders the brunt of daily finding, street contacting, and teaching. After several weeks together, with no noticeable improvement in his language abilities, the junior companion begins to offer corrective advice to his companion on his pronunciation.
This occurs mostly after teaching appointments, but sometimes right in the middle of them. Initially, though taken aback a bit, the senior companion tries to humbly accept the criticism. Then after one particularly less effective teaching appointment he loses his resolve and quips, “You know, Elder, feel free to say it correctly in the lesson and show me how it is done.” The junior companion is offended and the two begin to argue.
If you were the senior companion, how would you have responded? How long would you have suffered the “constructive” feedback? Or consider a real situation you have faced. How did you react? How long did your patience endure? Jesus, whose comparative capacity to those with whom He labored was enormous, always kept it together. He always knew more than the next person but never asserted His wisdom unrighteously. He was harassed for answers and explanations and never got a moment of reprieve from a companion who could respond while He collected His thoughts or adjusted His methods.
And His words and actions were constantly monitored (see Mark 3:2) by those far less capable and far less knowledgeable for errors and missteps. Yet, remarkably, mercifully, and with so much long-suffering, He taught, He explained, He reasoned, He persuaded, He discerned, and He forgave. Over and over again, day after day, year after year, down through time until today and forever.
What are your thoughts on this? Let us know in the comments!
The following was taken from the book Renewing Your Relationship with Christ, currently available at cedarfort.com.