Bear One Another’s Burdens

“Behold, here are the waters… and now, as you desire to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…”

So it reads in Mosiah 18:8 as Alma begins the characteristics of the baptismal covenant. There are promises to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort those that need comfort, and to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places. All of these things support the first part of the covenant, the bearing of one another’s burdens: and the social message in that covenant is a matter no-one who desires to be one with God should overlook.

Bearing the burden of another is much more than making facial expressions of sympathy and uttering kind and hopeful words. Bearing burdens means getting one’s shoulders under the same yoke as another and helping the brother or sister forward. It means offering up food, shelter, and money along with those facial expressions and kind words. The hard work one does for the benefit of another puts value into those words so that they have the meaning God wants them to have: true promises of support and aid.

What should be more precious to me than the love of God? Or do I hesitate when I have the currency in my hand? Does my heart and eye turn towards the money when it comes time to part with it, that I might better bear the burden of another? If I can let it go and not even think about asking for repayment, then I have the love of God with me and I am honoring my baptismal covenant.

And the answer to any question about what one should do in a particular circumstance is not to ask me or another human about it: ask God what He would have you do. Then, submit to that guidance and do the work of sharing God’s love with all your brothers and sisters, His children.

Just pre-dispose yourself to a response from God in which you are moved to mourn, offer comfort, stand as a witness, and to lift part of the heavy burden from the shoulders of another and bear it with that person, side by side in peace and love.

Wealth and Abinadi’s Sermon

In Mosiah 12-17, the Prophet Abinadi preaches a sermon against the wickedness of King Noah’s government and ecclesiastical arrangements. Both are set up to service the personal desires of the ruling class at the expense of the general population. When the priests of King Noah defend themselves as following and teaching the Law of Moses, Abinadi responds, “If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches?”

The very first condemnation Abinadi has for the priests is that they set their hearts on riches. There are other elements of his criticism, as well, but it is riches that comes first. This is the first thing, as it is a form of having graven images and placing a god of one’s own devising ahead of the God that gave the Law.

After Abinadi concludes his sermon, King Noah demands that Abinadi be put to death. When one of Noah’s priests, a man named Alma, objects and agrees with Abinadi, Noah orders that priest put to death, as well. Although truth is spoken to power, the power refuses to acknowledge the truth and insists upon a fantasy in which lies can substitute for the truth.

Later, Noah makes a formal accusation against Abinadi and basically offers Abinadi one last chance to recant what he has preached. Abinadi refuses and offers a final testimony – and this testimony sways Noah. Noah is ready to release Abinadi at this point, and could very well have repented had not his priests reinforced his greed and pride.

And that is what killed the prophet Abinadi. It was not the caprice of one man, a single wicked king. It was the whole government, the whole wicked structure, that bore down against the prophet. And because it was the government that made war on God, the nation of Noah had become ripe for destruction.

Where Is Mategosa?

You won’t find Mategosa on a map. Not a recent map, at any rate. There are Medieval Venetian maps and 16th-Century Ottoman charts that show the Isle of Mategosa, but modern-era cartographers either don’t know about Mategosa and leave it off – or they know full well about Mategosa and the trouble that could arise from putting it on a chart, so best to leave it off.

I was in Trieste harbor back in 2017, and I remember approaching the port authority to see navigation charts for where the Isle of Mategosa is. There’s no island on the map, just a “navigation hazard” that most shipping lines go neatly around… but it’s also the only navigation hazard that has a small number of shipping lines actually terminating on it.

I asked a worker at the port authority about getting passage to Mategosa. He was set to retire soon, so he had a certain candor in his speaking that others were too early in their careers to have. I recall his knowing smile and comments along the line of, “I can’t tell you that, but I can.” I asked him if that was the case just in Trieste. No, he said, it’s that way all around the Adriatic. Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Albanian ports – all of them have no official way to get you to Mategosa, but you can still get there if you need to.

So what’s the best way to get to get on a boat that arrives at the navigation hazard in the Northern Adriatic Sea? Well, experience has shown me that the best way to get there is to be a regular commuter. If one is in a habit of going to and from Mategosa, one tends to stay in that habit. But what about the casual visitor, drawn by tales of the ancient Roman playground for the wealthy, romances of Crusader pirates, or glimpses of the glitterati? How do tourists get there?

The good news is that it is very easy to get to Mategosa, once you know how to understand the system that is in place. The caution is that it is also very easy to get to Mategosa the wrong way, so you have to be careful about your travel arrangements.

Let’s cover what not to do first. Do not walk up and down the fishing piers, asking if any of the boats are going to Mategosa. You might very well find a boat that will take you there, but you might either pay a price that is ultimately too high or become permanently entangled in lines of business that will always keep drawing you back when you think you finally found a way out.

Do not walk into a ferry terminal and ask for a ticket to Mategosa. You will be flatly told that there is no such place. You will also be marked as a possible international police inspector or some other kind of busybody and the ferry operators’ network will likely blacklist you up and down both sides of the Adriatic. One of the most important rules of Mategosa is never asking the wrong questions about it. Asking for a ticket to Mategosa is one of those wrong questions.

To properly get to Mategosa, do go to the right kind of ferry terminal. One that advertises cross-border or trans-Adriatic service is the right kind of terminal. Local-only terminals will either lack service or offer it only to people that they recognize. In the international terminal, do not look for a ferry by its listed destination, look instead for ferries by their departure and arrival times. Where you see a ferry that has a departure time but no arrival time, that is the ferry to Mategosa. Depending on distance, fares for the ferry will range from 70-100 Euros. Go with established, recognized ferry firms, such as Jadrolinija, Gomo Viaggi, Kompas, or Venezia Lines.

Travel time to Mategosa from most major Adriatic ports is at least 5 hours, and from Pescara or Split, it can be 10-11 hours. I do not recommend boarding a ferry to Mategosa from a location further south. In most cases, it’s faster to take the train to Ancona in Italy or Split in Croatia and then board the ferry there. Nevertheless, if you must get to Mategosa directly from Bari or Durres, you can find passage on a recognized carrier in the manner described above. Be advised, however, that travel times will be much longer – you’ll likely be on a sleeper – and that the ferries depart less frequently than those in the Central or Northern Adriatic.

Do not expect Adriatic cruise ships to make any stops at Mategosa: Mategosa is one of the rare Adriatic islands not hugging the coastline, which is the domain of the cruise ship. Moreover, there would be some potentially severe legal entanglements for cruise liners to make a Mategosan port of call, so they will treat it very much as a “navigation hazard”, even though the hazards are purely ones of international law.

There is a causeway to Mategosa, but you do not want to travel to Mategosa by car. I will say no more of this except to re-iterate that if you arrive in Mategosa by any means other than a legitimate ferry service, you will most certainly not be a tourist. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Once you debark from the ferry, expect to be greeted by the smiling, but abrupt, natives. Most folk speak a blend of Dalmatian, a Romance tongue that is extinct everywhere else in the world, and Chakavian, the dialect of Serbo-Croatian most common along the Dalmatian and Istrian coast. Mategosans often know enough English to help tourists get to basic attractions, but prefer to conduct their business affairs in these obscure dialects. The reasoning behind that preference goes back several hundred years, back to when Mategosa became notorious as a base for uskoci pirates.

Now, if you want to know why Mategosa is not on any map, do not ask any Mategosan. At best, they will treat your question with quiet contempt. There is a certain cultural pride in their obscurity being a given, and they are tight-lipped about their national secrets. Do not also ask any boat operators, for reasons noted above. They will sail to “nowhere”, pause, and then turn around, no questions asked. Ever.

The answers to that question that should not be asked are to be found in Nacionalna i sveučilišna knjižnica u Zagrebu – the National and University Library in Zagreb. They are in the Library of St. Mark in Venice. They are in Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, the Ottoman State Archives in Istanbul. They are in the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, the Austrian State Archives in Vienna. And you will find those answers not by asking about Mategosa – that is a good way to get no information – but by asking roundabout questions about general information regarding the Central/Northern Adriatic region, with particular reference to endemic trees that people enjoyed in the past.

When you understand that in the patois of the mystery island, “Mategosa” translates as “tree we enjoy”, you will understand why that reference noted above begins to unlock the secrets of the place. And Mategosa is indeed home to a catkin-bearing chestnut tree species that is unique to that island, so if you don’t want to be sent to the botany section, be sure to mention “in the past” in your questioning, so that you are led to the part of the archives that have the maps with Mategosa on them… and the papers explaining why it had to be removed.

The Social Tragedy of King Noah

For a range of chapters in Mosiah, starting with chapter 11, we see the people of Zeniff now led by his son named Noah. In common views of King Noah, he is held up as a scenery-chewing Big Bad Wolf sort of character, lush in his Orientalist despotism, surrounded by ostentation and sycophants, as illustrated by Arnold Friberg’s famous painting, “Abinadi Before King Noah.” But it’s all too easy to just say that Noah was bad and leave it at that. He ordered the death of a prophet, right? Isn’t that bad enough?

Not really. The lesson of King Noah shouldn’t be “don’t kill prophets” and no more. It’s easy enough to say that and then ignore it: “well, so-and-so wasn’t really a prophet…” No, the lesson of King Noah runs much deeper and becomes even uncomfortable to read as we see parts of ourselves or our society depicted in opposition to the earnest strivings of the prophet, Abinadi.

Straight away, we are told that Noah did not keep the commandments of God, but had many concubines. There is a temptation to say, “OK, don’t also commit adultery. Got it.” But that is not the full lesson of Noah. After all, anyone can commit adultery and still repent. The tragedy of David is not that he committed adultery, but that he abused his power as king to arrange the death of a loyal subject in order to cover his sin. The adultery is bad, the cover-up is worse, the murder horrific, but worst of all was the abuse of the power and authority that David held. Was not David anointed of God to be the king? And with that sort of set-up, how much worse it was for David to behave as other kings. He was supposed to be better than that.

And indeed, we see worse for Noah in the next verse. He raised taxes on his people. Too many stop there and say, “Right, taxes are bad. Moving on.” No, that is not right, either. Under the Law of Moses, it was the duty of a righteous people to provide a just government. When I first read that, it halted my sympathy towards anarcho-libertarianism. It is the duty of a righteous people to provide a just government: taxes are therefore justified. Taxes are justified not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary good. Noah, however, raised the taxes to directly benefit himself, his family, and his closest supporters, not to benefit the poor. That is how he “changed the affairs of the kingdom.” This is the line Noah crosses. Up until this line, he was just personally responsible for his evil. When he institutionalizes the abuse of power for the benefit of a privileged few, he creates a situation in which the nation falls under condemnation.

That’s what we see in the Friberg painting: a rich elite that is leading their nation to its doom being contrasted with the simple, threadbare prophet of God. This is also where things become more uncomfortable for us. How close are we to King Noah in terms of our wealth and what we do with it? If we exploit loopholes or benefit unjustly from unfair laws or practices, we are more like Noah than Abinadi. When we give freely to those in need and search for ways we can help – not just be ready if called to help, but to actively search for ways to help – we are more like Abinadi than Noah.

The wickedness Noah brings on his people is outlined in how the tax money is spent: palaces, fineries, ornamentation. The workmen of the kingdom build up his benefits – seemingly ignorant of the looming threat of another Lamanite attack. While Noah’s father built up fortifications and weapons so that the people could desperately defend themselves, Noah legitimizes skimming off the resources of the people solely to benefit his clique.

And, no surprise, the Lamanites do notice the lack of defenses and commence raiding of Noah’s domain. Noah manages to mount a successful campaign against the Lamanite probes, but mistakenly thinks that his defeat of their reconnaissance in force is a bigger victory than it is. Noah’s people are condemned by Mormon for their boasting and their “delight in blood.”

At the end of Mosiah 11, we see Noah using his power as king to justify a death warrant against Abinadi, who preaches against his wickedness. Noah claims Abinadi’s words are seditious. Now, the truth of the matter is that Abinadi’s words are seditious, in that the people could be led to oppose Noah’s wicked institutions. With the laws that Noah has, Abinadi is absolutely in violation of them. That the laws are unjust is not an excuse. Abinadi will preach in full knowledge that his life is forfeit in that preaching. It is therefore, not Noah that slays the prophet: it is Noah’s nation and government that slays the prophet.

This, therefore, is the fullness of the social tragedy of King Noah. The wickedness of the ruler was all too easily embraced by a segment of the people who saw a way to profit thereby. The laws of the nation were bent and twisted and made to provide not a just government, but an unjust government. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in Noah’s government – where that happens in the world, the nations permitting such things are under as much condemnation as was Noah’s.

The Keys to Destruction

The author of The Book of Mormon did not have room for excess. Both time and resources were limited for his effort of collating a record for a future day. He could not spare room for unnecessary words. As we read it, it does us well to focus on adjectives that Mormon provides so that we can better understand his message.

In Mosiah 9, Zeniff describes a change of heart that he had as he spied among the Lamanites. Sent into their midst to find out how to destroy them, he saw the good in them and no longer wished to see their destruction. When discussing his change of heart with his commander, it led to a battle within the Nephite group – father against father and brother against brother. Why? Why did the Nephites destroy themselves? Look at the description of the commander: blood-thirsty and austere.

Blood-thirsty has an obvious enough meaning: merciless. Austere carries a meaning of stubborn, strict, hostile to new ideas or even to the idea of making connections between ideas for better understanding. Translating “austere” into Hebrew gives חָמוּר. Translating חָמוּר back into English gives “donkey” as the first suggestion. “Severe, stern, grave, strict, drastic, grievous, acid” all follow as suggestions. Do we want to destroy ourselves? If yes, then let us be merciless and so set in our ways that we close off all hope of change in our views.

When we show mercy and entertain the thought that we might just be wrong, we open the doors to salvation as we close the gates of destruction. If that commander had been instead merciful and humble, along with the rest of that Nephite expedition, then they could all have been saved, in mortal respects as well as eternal.

But Zeniff continues, as he is a humble person and realizes his own fault in being over-zealous to work with the Lamanites. He describes himself with a term that indicates, again, a lack of flexibility. Associated words in Hebrew include “rabid, possessive, fanatical, jealous.” While it was better to be merciful than merciless, over-zealous is as bad as austere, in the long run.

In this case, Zeniff failed to remember that while there was good among the Lamanites, they were also in a state of general hostility towards the Nephites, and their leadership was not above setting a trap for Zeniff’s group. That they did does not surprise me, but that Zeniff so quickly goes to cursing the Lamanites with “they are all…” negative stereotypes, well, that caught me off-guard. I expected better of someone who was so ready to see the good in an enemy.

He insults the Lamanites, calling them a “lazy and idolatrous people” who wanted to “glut themselves with the labors of our hands”. Well, Zeniff, truth be told, that’s pretty much how conquest worked in the ancient world. It doesn’t make the Lamanites any better or worse than other nations that conquered and created tributary states for their support.

How could this episode have turned out differently, and better for Zeniff and his followers? If they had not been possessed of the idea of returning to “their” land, none of this would have happened. God had led Mosiah and the righteous people out of that land in order to preserve them. The land was no more for the Nephites: they had lost it through their wickedness, just as they had lost Jerusalem. Their new land was for them, and there was plenty of room there for growth, in peace and in righteousness.

That old land had been surrendered in order to save the righteous that remained among the Nephites. There is no way to reclaim that land rightfully save through peace and mutual agreement. Anything short of that will equate to generations of conflict. the very idea of reclaiming the land through violence or without all parties operating in good faith was at variance with God’s plan to preserve the people. This Zeniff admits as much to as he describes how the wars with the Lamanites led him and his followers to repent – “we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.” He had been proud, now the wars and their cost in lives was humbling him.

In Mosiah 10, Zeniff continues his record. He attributes a long period of peace to his people’s strength in weapons. So, yes, his people do not have to fight a war for 22 years, but they also have to divert much of their production towards weaponry and fortifications and live in constant apprehension of a day when the Lamanites feel that the odds are back in their favor. This is a watchful, paranoid peace, not a prosperous one.

The Lamanites attack again when a new king ascends to the throne. In order to defend themselves, the Nephites under Zeniff are forced to call into service both the old and young men – pensioners and teenagers, in our understanding. That is the extent of their desperation, they must scrape the bottom of the barrel for any man that can stand and point a spear in the direction of the enemy, no matter how unprepared for war that man might be.

As Zeniff describes the Lamanites on the march against his people, he again resorts to negative stereotypes to describe them. I don’t think that these stereotypes absolve Zeniff of the grave mistake he made in leading his people to return to a land that was no longer theirs. His description of the past sounds like propaganda or reasoning to justify the rightness of the cause to reclaim their old homeland. While I agree with Zeniff’s summary in that, yes, Nephi was more righteous in keeping the commandments of God, I can’t extend the righteousness of Nephi to all of his descendants. Had that been possible, then there would have been no flight from the land of Nephi under Mosiah.

Zeniff ends his days free from Lamanite rulership, but not free from fear. He is more repentant and humble than in his younger days, but still he clings to ideas that are zealous and rigid. His people fought to retain their political independence, but would they have had to fight at all if they had remained among their fellows in the land of refuge that Mosiah had found?

And thus we see the fate of those who are austere and those who are zealous. God’s way is merciful and patient and long-suffering and peaceful.

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.