I am working on my contemporary English version of The Book of Mormon, which I am calling “The Book of Mormon: Plain and Precious Truths” and was particularly struck by a some verses today, namely Mosiah 2: 28-45 (LDS Mosiah 4:16-27).
For context, King Benjamin was the king of Zarahemla. His reign was marked by peace and equality. However, he is extremely old and gives the kingdom to his son, Mosiah II. King Benjamin addresses his kingdom practically on his deathbed and gives them his parting words of advice. He tells them about what a justice-filled leader looks like, encourages them to take the Divine’s advice, reminds them of the consequences of not taking the Divine’s advice, talks about Christ’s coming ministry and sacrifice, reminds people to learn about God and to teach children about the Divine, and then finally the part that struck me occurs. I would like to just copy-and-paste the noteworthy verses and then speak on them a little:
28 Give help to those who need help, including material assistance. 29 Don’t turn away those who are reaching out for help and leave them to die. 30 You may say to yourselves ‘They have put themselves in this situation, so I won’t be charitable and give them food or help. They deserve to be here.’ 31 Whoever does this desperately needs to repent, and until they do they will endure death and have no interest in the Divine’s realm. 32 Don’t we all have to ask for help? After all, don’t we all depend on God for everything we have, including food, clothing, and income.
33 Even now you have been asking God for a Divine assurance of your soul. 34 Did God turn you away? 35 No! The Divine poured out their spirit upon you which caused your hearts to be filled with a joy that was so profound that you couldn’t find words to properly convey it!
36 God created you and you depend on them for everything you are and have. If God gives you what you ask for, after trusting that they would, how do you think you should give to other people? 37 If you condemn someone who asks you for help so they don’t die, do you think it would be justice for God to condemn you when you ask the Divine for help? After all, everything, including you and the things you own, belong to God. 38 While you are under this condemnation don’t you think that you should change your ways and ask for forgiveness? 39 Those who don’t change their ways are cursed, because their stuff will die with them! These words are addressed to the rich people in this world.
40 To those that are living paycheck-to-paycheck and don’t have the financial ability to be charitable, I want you to say to yourselves ‘I am not charitable because I don’t have the ability to be charitable. If I had more than enough to care for myself I would be charitable.’ 41 If you can say this with a clear conscience then you are guiltless. However, if you are not able to say this with a clear conscience and don’t help others then you are under a just condemnation and care more about things which don’t even truly belong to you!
42 I have told you these things so you can gain a Divine assurance for your soul and walk guiltlessly in front of God. 43 I want you to help the poor as much as you are able! Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick! Give them the relief they need, whether it be spiritual or temporal.
44 Do these things wisely, but don’t overextend yourself. 45 Be diligent, yet mindful.
This is powerful scripture to me.
King Benjamin reminds us to have empathy and charity for those who are in need. He then goes on to condemn those who look down upon those in need and calls them hypocrites. He then turns to those who are barely getting by. He knows that these people are the ones who want to do the right thing, but aren’t able to because of their situation. He shows compassion by recognizing their situations and tells them to take care of themselves first and not to overextend themselves.
I am consistently blown away at the harshness that the Book of Mormon dishes out to the rich and greedy and the understanding and compassion it has for the poor. I found verses 40-41, 44-45 particularly profound. A lot of my adult life has been marked by poverty – there have been times where people noted that I had lost weight and I sheepishly told them that it was because I didn’t have the money to eat regularly. During that time I also often felt guilty that I wasn’t able to financially help those around me who were also in need. These verses spoke to that exact situation that I have been in many times in my life.