I was reading through some old scripture notes I had written on my phone and I came across a link back to a talk from October 2014 General Conference by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, so I read that talk again. I don’t remember hearing this talk, it was as if I were reading it for the first time just now, and with several recent experiences, I found this talk to be especially powerful and meaningful.
His talk is titled, “Are We Not All Beggars?” in reference to the great sermon given by King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon. In this talk Elder Holland (and King Benjamin, in his sermon quoted by Elder Holland) get very serious about what it means to be a Christian, or a follower of Jesus Christ.
I don’t want to be the kind of person who tells others that they are living their lives wrong, that they are living their religion incorrectly, that they do not understand the scriptures or the doctrines fully. Certainly the same can be said of me with regard to certain aspects of my life and religion. But, when someone professes to believe in Jesus Christ and claims that they want to follow Him and become like Him, how can that person ignore what He said about how to deal with our fellow men and women, brothers and sisters and children of God, especially those who are poor and sick and downtrodden by life, the very types of people who Jesus spent His life serving and ministering to? The most repeated condemnations from our Savior’s lips were directed at those hypocrites who taught the gospel and yet did not live its principles.
Elder Holland, quoting both ancient and modern scripture, said, “As Jehovah, He said He would judge the house of Israel harshly because “the spoil of the [needy] is in your houses.”
“What mean ye,” He cried, “that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor?”
The writer of Proverbs would make the matter piercingly clear: “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker,” and “whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor … shall [also] cry himself, but shall not be heard.”
In our day, the restored Church of Jesus Christ had not yet seen its first anniversary when the Lord commanded the members to “look to the poor and … needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.” Note the imperative tone of that passage—“they shall not suffer.” That is language God uses when He means business.”
With recent debates about healthcare bringing out more and more stories of individuals who are suffering, this sermon from an Apostle of the Lord hits powerfully. I look at Congress debating what kind of healthcare others deserve. I hear many people talking about cuts to essential medical services, including Medicaid, which serves the poorest and most in need among us. I read stories of people and families who have spent all that they have and more, in some cases, due to some life-threatening illness or injury. I ask myself that timeless question: What Would Jesus Do?
What WOULD Jesus do? How would he interact with those poor and sick among us? But, maybe the better question is – What would Jesus have ME do?
I ask that question, what can I do? Can I call my elected representatives? Write, Email, Tweet them? I live in Washington, all of my representatives are already against this proposed plan to limit access to healthcare. What can I do?
Elder Holland addresses this point, too: “So how might we “do what we can”?
“For one thing, we can, as King Benjamin taught, cease withholding our means because we see the poor as having brought their misery upon themselves. Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing? Isn’t that why this compassionate ruler asks, “Are we not all beggars?” Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case?”
“In addition to taking merciful action in their behalf, we should also pray for those in need. A group of Zoramites, considered by their fellow congregants to be “filthiness” and “dross”—those are scriptural words—were turned out of their houses of prayer “because of the coarseness of their [wearing] apparel.” They were, Mormon says, “poor as to things of the world; and also … poor in heart”—two conditions that almost always go together. Missionary companions Alma and Amulek counter that reprehensible rejection of the shabbily dressed by telling them that whatever privileges others may deny them, they can always pray—in their fields and in their houses, in their families and in their hearts.
But then, to this very group who had themselves been turned away, Amulek says, “After [you] have [prayed], if [you] turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if [you] have [it], to those who stand in need—I say unto you, … your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and [you] are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” What a stunning reminder that rich or poor, we are to “do what we can” when others are in need.”
There is always something you can do for someone else. Elder Holland relates a story of Mother Theresa, well-known for her boundless charity and immense service to the poor and destitute. “A journalist once questioned Mother Teresa of Calcutta about her hopeless task of rescuing the destitute in that city. He said that, statistically speaking, she was accomplishing absolutely nothing. This remarkable little woman shot back that her work was about love, not statistics. Notwithstanding the staggering number beyond her reach, she said she could keep the commandment to love God and her neighbor by serving those within her reach with whatever resources she had. “What we do is nothing but a drop in the ocean,” she would say on another occasion. “But if we didn’t do it, the ocean would be one drop less [than it is].”
I still don’t know what I can do today to help alleviate anyone’s suffering or to help anyone who is poor and in need. But, I know that I should at least be looking, I should at least be aware that there are those who do not have as much as I do, there are those whom I can assist, even with my small means. I can try to emulate Jesus Christ, who “went about doing good”, who served the poor and the sick, those marginalized by society. I can extend a warm hand of fellowship, a smile and a nod, a friendly greeting to show that I do not see them as outcasts, as dirty and poor, unworthy of my time or attention. I can begin to see everyone around me as our Father in Heaven sees them – as His children whom he loves. I can continue to honestly ask myself “What would Jesus do?” and “What would Jesus have me do?”
Again, Elder Holland gives me the words I need to read, “Now, lest I be accused of proposing quixotic global social programs or of endorsing panhandling as a growth industry, I reassure you that my reverence for principles of industry, thrift, self-reliance, and ambition is as strong as that of any man or woman alive. We are always expected to help ourselves before we seek help from others. Furthermore, I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who do not or cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”
I cannot solve all of society’s problems. I cannot end homelessness, nor solve all of the issues in our broken healthcare system. I cannot end poverty or mental illness or any illness. I cannot on my own. But I am not asked to. I am asked to remember that I, too, rely on my Father for all that I have. I am asked to share what I have been given with those who do not even have as much as I do. I am asked to remember that we are all children of God and the He loves each one of them as much as He loves me, and that if I want to become like Him, I will do the same.