Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unto the Least of These

Yesterday, as I was walking into the University of Hawaii Campus Center, I overheard a snippet of two guys' conversation.

In reply to something the one said that I didn't hear, the other said, "I'm not homeless! How many homeless people do you see who wear Guess jeans and American Apparel?"

I cannot comment on what he said relative to its actual context. But he said it with so much sneering disdain in his voice that it seemed clear that he considered himself much higher in class than any of the ubiquitous Honolulu homeless. And all because he was wearing expensive clothes.

True, Mark Twain did once say, "Clothes make the man," but he qualified his comment by continuing, "Naked people have little or no influence on society." It's the covering of our bodies that's important, not the cost of that covering.

I'm reminded of Paul's first epistle to Timothy wherein he gave this sage advice, "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Just a couple of verses later Paul reminds us that "the love of money is the root of all evil."

One of the many reasons why I enjoy studying the Book of Mormon is because it has much to say about social injustice (a favorite theme of Isaiah, too).

For example one writer prophesied that in the last days people would "rob the poor because of their fine clothing" (2 Nephi 28:13).

Another writer continued this same thought, saying, "Ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel...more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.

"Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?" (Mormon 8:37, 39)

Expensive clothing is a quintessential Veblen good--for some strange reason, the more expensive clothes are the more desirable they become as a means to impart higher social status to the wearer. Yet the money saved by not buying costly apparel could be put to actual good use helping those with little to nothing to call their own, including clothes.

Even despite the lousy economy, "the hand of providence hath smiled upon [us] most pleasingly, that [we] have obtained many riches," to use the words of another Book of Mormon writer who then continues, "and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they" (Jacob 2:13).

Instead, our writer informs us, "Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you" (Jacob 2:17).

He assures us that if we seek for riches we will find them, but we are reminded of the true reason for seeking after riches: "For the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted" (Jacob 2:19).

Yet another reminds us that "if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need"--in short, "if ye do not remember to be charitable, ye are as dross, which the refiners do cast out, (it being of no worth) and is trodden under foot of men" (Alma 34:28-29).

Ultimately, as Paul said, "we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Timothy 6:7); or, as Job put it, "Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither" (Job 1:21).

Therefore, as the Book of Mormon counsels, "Do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy" (2 Nephi 9:51).

Instead, "I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants" (Mosiah 2:26).

Then, come the day of judgment, "the King [shall] say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

"Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

"Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

"When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

"Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matthew 25:34-40).

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