Monthly Archives: May 2021

All Are Beggars Before God

King Benjamin’s sermon in Mosiah 4 takes on a social dimension, especially around verse 14. He is not making a comment on what the individual alone must do, but what the righteous society is responsible for. It is not enough that some kind of service for the poor exists. That service must be complete and comprehensive – perfect in a word that means all-encompassing.

“You will not suffer that the beggar puts up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” This statement from verse 16 is not spoken to everyone except the one hearing it or reading it. It is to each of us, collectively as well as individually. If there are beggars, there is something unrighteous in the society, and it’s not the beggar. It’s everyone who thinks that they’re not beggars. In verse 19, Benjamin says we are all beggars before God, not just for our sins to be forgiven, but for our daily survival, as well. Who, then, are we to hold on to more of something than what we need?

If we take the example of the widow who shared her last food with the prophet Elijah, we hold nothing back. We hold her up as an example and say, “look how wonderful she was… so poor, yet she gave all she had and we say that is righteous.” Well, the rich also have to give all they have to be righteous.

So what of the rich who do not give of what they have to support the poor? Verse 23: “Wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him.” And remember also, the failure of society in general to have the rich aid the poor led to the destruction of Jerusalem and was constantly threatened to Benjamin’s people as the fate that awaits them if they tolerate such unrighteous inequality.

And while it feels easy to read comments from Benjamin about returning what was borrowed and that the poor should not plot to steal from the rich, we also must understand that the rich must be generous, that the poor be not poor. We have to only ask back for what was borrowed, not with interest… “or else you shall commit sin; and perhaps you shall cause your neighbor to commit sin also.”

All are beggars before God, not just the poor people on earth. When we realize the equality of our circumstances, we find that there is no justification to try to hold on to more stuff than we need when others don’t have what they need.

The Equalizer of Righteousness

The story of King Benjamin is central to the narrative of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. It is very much a second beginning to the book, coming as it does after the collapse of the nation at the end of the first portion. Benjamin’s renewal comes at a cost: personal prides and vanities.

In his speech to his people in Mosiah 2, Benjamin emphasizes the equality of every person in his nation and that he labored as their king. He worked with his own hands that he would not have to burden his people with taxes. Unlike other kings had done, he was not going to enrich himself from the position.

He states, “Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.” This is a theme that he repeats in his speech. Service to others is service to God. Service to God is service to others. He reflects this need to serve towards his people: “Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?”

He goes on to speak of both being indebted to God and being paid by God – as king, the people owed Benjamin nothing, but all owed God everything. As king, he served all his people and God provided blessings because of their righteousness.

The equality of the gathering indicated the extent of the righteousness. Instead of remarking on how the gathering was attended by nobles and other people with lofty titles, every family gathered in their tents, equally on the ground. If it was, as some scholars speculate, part of a Sukkot observance, all were equal before God in that sacred observance.

To be a righteous people, we must be an equal people. And, as will be brought out in the story of King Noah, an equal people requires a just government.

Hatred, Conflict, and Wickedness

From the book of Jarom to the first chapter of Mosiah, we have only a few pages in the Book of Mormon. But their laconic statements carry powerful meanings. They show the connection between the wickedness of a nation and how embroiled in conflicts born of hatreds that it becomes.

While Jarom was able to exert sufficient effort to maintain his people’s righteousness, he notes that it was possible only through extraordinary efforts and that he spent much of his time in conflict with a rival nation. The implication here is that the people, in their wickedness, do not love their neighbors. They hate them. This hatred makes conflicts easier to develop and to escalate.

This is not good news for Jarom’s nation. His son notes that he was less righteous and more embroiled in conflict. The brief notes that follow in generational succession speak of more wickedness, more hatred, and more wars. We read that “the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed.” Even with the more wicked part being destroyed, the Nephites remain in danger, as the prophets write how God is not preserving them in their wickedness.

Five generations after Jarom, the prophet Amaleki writes about Mosiah, who took the people that would listen to him and led them out of the land of Nephi. The implication is that those who remained, like their ancestors in Jerusalem, were destroyed in their wickedness.

But the people did not know true peace in their land until they finally became more righteous, righteous enough to enjoy the blessings of protection from God. If there is a place in the world that is overrun with contention and violence, it is not more contention and more violence that will solve those problems. It will be righteous people ready to sacrifice themselves in the name of peace and love who solve those problems. It will be openness and fairness that resolve those issues, not paranoia and developing an “us against them” attitude.

My Remarks on Mother’s Day, 2021

Today is Mother’s Day. I would like to start my talk with a joke from the Catskills and then a story from China.

First the joke, about doing what your mother tells you to do.

It’s morning and a school day. David is still in his room. His mom goes in. “You’ve got to get up for school, David.
“David pulls the blankets over his head and replies, “I don’t want to go to school, mom.”
“But you have to,” says mom. 
“I don’t want to. The teachers don’t like me, and all the kids make fun of me.”
Mom pulls the blanket back a little. “David, you don’t have any choice. You’ve got to get up for school.”
“OK, OK,” says David. “But only if you give me one good reason!”
“I’ll give you two,” says mom. “You’re 52 years old, and you’re the principal!” 

Mom knows best, remember that. Now for the story from China.

Cai Shun lost his father when he was young so he lived with his mother, who he loved very much. Because there was a war going on, food prices were very high. Because Cai and his mother were very poor, they could not afford to buy rice. So, every day, Cai would go into the woods to pick mulberries for his mother and him to eat. One day, while Cai was out gathering mulberries, he encountered enemy soldiers. He was very afraid of what would happen, because he was just a boy and they were very strong men with swords and spears. The soldiers noticed that he had not one basket of mulberries, but two. The soldiers asked him why he separated black and red mulberries and placed them in different baskets. Cai replied that the black ones (which tasted sweet) were for his mother while the red ones (which tasted sour) were for himself. The soldiers were reminded of their own mothers. Impressed by Cai’s love for his mother, they carried a sack of rice to his home.

Jesus kept all the commandments. Of the first ten given to Moses, the fifth one reads, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

Jesus honored his mother. We should all learn from what he did, that we might keep this commandment ourselves. Eight times is this commandment repeated in the Bible – mothers and fathers both get first mention when the commandment is repeated. Therefore, we must show this love for our parents, this honor for our parents, equally. We do not honor our fathers and then our mothers. We honor both at the same time. 
What I say today can apply to both parents, but I am drawing a line of emphasis under honor and respect due our mothers today, due to the occasion of this being Mother’s Day. 

The commandment to honor our mothers is understood to be more than just smiling and saying nice things about them. We must support them and see to it that they are cared for, that they have enough to eat, a good home, clothing, and companionship from us, their children. This commandment also applies to stepmothers, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers.   

Even as Christ was dying in agony on the cross, he took time to have a thought for his mother: we read in John 19:25-27

25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Christ knew that he was to die and he knew that he must see that his mother had care. He gave that task, lovingly, to his apostle John. The implication from this, of course, is that Christ took loving care of his own mother as he lived. The very Son of God, the Atoning One, took time and effort to ensure that his mother was cared for – and made it a priority in his life. He said that he was about his Father’s work, and part of that work was to care for his mother. 

The connection between parents and God has been obvious to scholars of many faiths, throughout time and recorded history. So it is with us: anyone who gives us the gift of life cannot ever be repaid. Therefore, honor and respect is due to that person. We keep that person’s commandments because of our love and our gratitude. We are loved unconditionally, and so we find ways to return that love in placing a priority on the person who gave us life.

Under Jewish law, which Jesus observed and which gives us more detail on keeping this commandment, only a parent’s request to disobey God could be refused. Anything the parents asked for within the bounds of righteousness, the children were required to provide. Jesus set this example in John 2:3-4:

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what wilt thou have me to do for thee? that will I do; for mine hour is not yet come.

If you wish to honor your mother, try that attitude. Promise to yourself and your mother: mother, as long as I live, I will do what you ask me to do. You will keep the commandment that way and be blessed all the days of your life. 

The great composer Giacomo Meyerbeer lived in 19th-Century Germany. Even though there was great oppression against Jews, his mother had raised him to respect and honor that religion. Giacomo stayed true to what his mother taught. After his grandfather died, Giacomo wrote to his mother, “Please accept from me a promise that I will always live in the religion in which he died.” And he did. That, my brothers and sisters, is a powerful way to honor our mothers.

Another rule for keeping the commandment is for children to let their mothers know how they are doing, so that their mothers do not worry about them. Jesus showed us that we can never be too preoccupied to take a moment to speak with our mothers to console them.

Whether our mothers be living or dead, we can also honor them with the study of scripture and applying the lessons of the scriptures in our lives. Living righteously honors our earthly parents as much as it does our Heavenly Father. 

The commandment extends to anyone who offers care for us, even if they are not our direct parents. Those who teach us in church and in schools are due this respect and honor. Any woman who offers righteous guidance and wisdom to us is mother to us: honor that person in doing that which is righteous, without argument, complaint, or criticism.

Nephi included an account that pains me to read. While his brothers claimed to be righteous, they were guilty of drawing near to God with their lips, but being distant in their hearts. They claimed to keep the commandments, but committed a severe breach of observing them when they bound Nephi with strong cords while they were on their voyage to the Promised Land.

In 1 Nephi 18:17-18, we read

17 Now my father, Lehi, had said many things unto them, and also unto the sons of Ishmael; but, behold, they did breathe out much threatenings against anyone that should speak for me; and my parents being stricken in years, and having suffered much grief because of their children, they were brought down, yea, even upon their sick-beds.

18 Because of their grief and much sorrow, and the iniquity of my brethren, they were brought near even to be carried out of this time to meet their God; yea, their grey hairs were about to be brought down to lie low in the dust; yea, even they were near to be cast with sorrow into a watery grave.

What pain do we bring to our mothers when we fail to be righteous? May such a day never come, may none of us here ever bring grief and much sorrow because of our iniquity. May we all deepen our desire to observe our covenants, to do the daily tasks that build up our righteousness, that such a day never come to our homes. May we make that promise to ourselves and our mothers to live righteously and never waver in our righteousness.

Let us be like Nephi, who honored his mother as he worked to heal a broken world. In his trial, he said, “Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions.” This is what his mother taught to him. His father, as well, but consider the day and remember the parent! Healing a broken world involves not only praise for God, but constant acts of compassion and creativity for those around you. It is exhausting, but necessary.  I will also note that one of the rules for honoring one’s mother includes to never disturb her sleep. Her rest is sacred. And if she needs time away from everyone for a while, count that as part of her rest. She has much work to do, so let her take the time she needs to recharge.   This is so she can do as Nephi, and teach others to heal a broken world.

This is not a weekend service project. This is not a lone week devoted to a charity. This is constant work. Mothers live a life in which the saying, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it,” is their one and their all. Just as God never desists in loving us, just as Christ never desists in pleading for our causes, so it is with our mothers. 

Above all, mothers show us a path forward in life. We have words about Christ’s life, but we can see a living example in our mothers. I would like to close with two poems. The first poem was written by Langston Hughes, titled “Mother to Son”:
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

The second is by Joanne Bailey Baxter, a memoir of her late mother, titled “Mother on Mother’s Day”

You were the center of our universe
The mother of us all
You gave to us your everything
We only need to call

And soon your strength was tested
Though you put up such a fight
For from a distant spiritual land
The angels called you in the night

For someone up in heaven
Looked down upon the land
And chose mom for her strength
To come and give a hand

He knew that her legacy
That she had left behind
Would withstand the pain and grief
Over a period of time

For she had fulfilled his prophesy
Spreading love, honor, and hope
She instilled in those she left behind
The ability to understand and cope

May we all honor our mothers. May we all withstand the pain and grief, understand and cope, as our mothers have taught us to do. Life ain’t been no crystal stair – just ask Jesus – and our mothers show us how to walk that path, even the last mile of it. Talk to your mothers today if you can. Give them comfort. Study the scriptures and walk up to the covenants that you have made. Live a life that each day draws closer to the Savior, and make your mother proud.