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.