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Poverty takes many forms—temporal, emotional, spiritual—but in the end, poverty always is defined by a lack. Every prophet has looked upon the condition of the poor, who are oppressed by Babylon, and grieved. In his day, Ezekiel mourned, “The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yea, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully.”[i]
Mistreating the poor has always been indicative of the most depraved people. Sodom and Gomorrah are examples: “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.”[ii]
The human tendency toward meanness is beyond comprehension. A disfigured child whose condition should invite pity, is often teased, taunted, and otherwise cruelly mistreated by his peers. Likewise, the Psalmist laments of the poor, “The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor.”[iii] To persecute is to “systematically subject a race or group of people to cruel or unfair treatment; to make somebody the victim of continual pestering or harassment.”[iv]
The scriptures use extreme language when describing our turning away from impoverished souls. For instance, consider the verbs persecute, rob, hate, pollute, despise. Sadly, the poor often search in vain for mercy: “The poor is hated even of his own neighbor.”[v]
If we turn our backs on one of God’s children, he takes it personally: “Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker.”[vi] Such a person cannot be classified as a follower of Christ: “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”[vii]
On the other hand, the Lord loves and generously recompenses those who care for his disadvantaged children: “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.”[viii]
Wo unto the Rich Who Despise the Poor
Nephi, speaking prophetically, pronounced ten woes on those who enter into the new and everlasting covenant and receive the blessings of the Atonement then neglect or reject the Savior, who proffered those blessings. As we shall see, these woes eventually settle on the issue of mammon-seeking over caring for the poor.
The first of these woes condemns an attitude of disregard for and rebellion against the laws of God. A careful reading reveals the troubling fact that Nephi was speaking to members of the Church, those who have received “all the laws of God.” Nephi said, “But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!”
This depraved condition is inspired by Satan and embraced by individuals who are vain, foolish, and spiritually frail: “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.”
We might ask ourselves, What could create a situation so awful that even the covenant people would perish? Nephi answered by listing his set of woes, and, significantly, he began with mammon-seeking and its impact on the poor: “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.”[ix]
We hear echoes of idolatry in these verses. Treasure had captured the hearts of the Saints. They worshipped their treasure adoringly, as if it were their god, and they were paying for their treasure with their souls.
They Rob the Poor
Elsewhere Nephi continues to use the imagery of worship to describe our latter-day adulation of money. In the following verse, he accuses people in the last days of robbing the poor by using the Lord’s money for their personal luxuries and for building unto themselves “sanctuaries,” that is, “shrines” or “temples” wherein their god of money might reside: “They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.”[x]
Scriptures often have layers of meaning. While the word sanctuaries references actual places of worship, the word can simultaneously mean places or things that are not of God—those places and things we worship instead of God. These “sanctuaries” become “holy” to us because they represent that which we of the latter days hold most sacred.
Such “sanctuaries” may take all sorts of forms: elegant homes, expensive cars, excessive leisure, “fine clothing,” and other luxuries—anything we worship, anything that we can point to as evidence of our industry, ingenuity, and genius. When it comes to our devotion to these things, we are devout worshippers; we are completely loyal to our false god. We can always be found in our “sanctuaries” paying homage to the deity of mammon while the poor languish and suffer in the shadows of our sanctuaries.
Nephi’s choice of phrase, “they rob the poor,” links withholding assistance to the poor with thievery. A person can only be robbed of something that rightfully belongs to him. Plainly, we have no right to cling to or withhold that which does not rightfully belong to us. “The riches of the earth are mine to give,” the Lord states emphatically. To whom does he want to bless with those riches? “The poor and the needy.” For what purpose? To “administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.”[xi]
As stewards of the Lord’s property, we are under covenant to do with the
Building Personal Sanctuaries
Moroni scolded the people of the latter-days: “Ye love money more than ye love the poor. For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches [sanctuaries], more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”
Once again, we hear the reference to money being used to pamper and adorn the steward rather than to help the Lord’s impoverished children. We see the poor being robbed by the stewards of the Lord’s property and suffering for it. Moroni couldn’t stand it:
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
Our eternal happiness is at stake, and certain misery looms if we do not change our attitude toward the poor.