Our Responsibility to the Poor

[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, April 2016.]

To begin my talk, let me ask you a personal question:  Are you rich?  I don’t mean in a spiritual sense and this is not a trick question.  I’m not talking about being rich in spiritual blessings or rich in the gospel.  I’m asking if you are financially “rich” in the usual sense of how people use that word.

In 2013, median household income in the world was a little under $10,000.  Median means that half were above the number and half were below the number.  If your household income in 2013 was above $10,000, you had higher income than most people in the world.

In 2014, median household income in the U.S. was $52,000 and in the state of Utah it was $56,000.

How much household income do you have to have to be in the top 1% in the world?  The number may surprise you.  It’s just $34,000.

If your household income is $60,000, you are in the top 5th of the top 1% in the world.  Your income is higher than 99.8% of the people on earth.

If your household income is $100,000, you are in the top 10% of the top 1% in the world.  Your income is higher than 99.9% of the people on earth.

With some, but few, exceptions, households in the Highland Utah South Stake are, by every reasonable comparative, rich.  I think it is important that we accept that fact and that our children understand just how true it is.  They may not need to know your exact income, but they need a proper perspective (not a “Highland vs. Alpine” perspective) on where their family sits on the worldwide scale of relative wealth.  We should not make the mistake of denying our “rich-ness” simply because we know some people—or know of some people—who have more than we do.  About 99% of the world is prepared to be thoroughly disgusted by you and me if we do.

The Savior had a number of things to say to and about rich people.  We should not make the mistake of assuming that He is speaking about someone else.  We should receive his comments about income and wealth with marked sobriety.

In Luke 16, we read the story of a rich man and a poor man:

19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

What is the Savior saying here about rich people?  What reason is given for the rich man being in hell?  Is there a difference between that rich man and me?  I might make up one but the story doesn’t provide one.  What is the Lord saying about your and my responsibility toward the poor?

In Luke 12, the Savior speaks about a rich man through a parable, but introduces it with this warning:

15 …Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.

Then the parable goes like this:

16 …The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?

18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

We might hear that parable and excuse or comfort ourselves because of how it ends, thinking that we are, in fact, rich toward God.  Hopefully that is true!  But we must also ask ourselves what we are doing with our earthly treasures.

We probably all know the story of the widow’s mite.  The Savior is in the temple courtyard…

1 And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.

2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.

3 And he said, …this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:

4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury [“penury” means “destitution”] hath cast in all the living that she had.

When I pay my fast offerings and other donations, I think often of the phrase “all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God.”  That describes my situation and I know it.  I am left to think seriously about whether I give enough.

What do we do with our earthly riches?  Are we really “rich toward God”?  Will the Savior one day be able to say to you and me:

35 …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:

Lastly, we cannot forget the Savior’s conversation with the Rich Young Man:

18 …a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? [We need to remember when reading this story that that is the question it begins with!]

19 And Jesus said unto him…

20 Thou knowest the commandments…

21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.

22 [Then the Savior says to him], Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.

All those passages are from the New Testament, but modern-day scripture is consistent with the New Testament.  The Book of Mormon reminds us over and over again to care for the poor and warns us against materialism.  As one very brief example, Alma asks in Alma, Chapter 5:  “Will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, in withholding your substance from them?”

The Doctrine and Covenants gives as the primary reason for “few” being “chosen” (even though many are called) that “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.”

The Doctrine and Covenants also teaches that “the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.”

In the Highland South Stake, nearly 90% of members pay a full tithe. We are a devoted and faithful people in many respects.

I want to challenge your thinking today regarding our responsibility to care for the poor.  I want to do so because I worry that we too easily overlook this exceptionally fundamental teaching of Christianity.  And then there is this quote from Brigham Young.  He said:

“The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.”

What is sobering about those remarks is how consistent they are with the teachings of the Savior who also spoke of rich people going to hell.  And how prophetic they are with regard to you and me having become “the richest people on this earth.”

The Savior warned that “it is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  We should not try to explain away His point too quickly as not meaning just exactly what He said.

So what to do?  Let us be men and women of action.  Here are three suggestions:

First, let us be certain that God, His kingdom, and His purposes are the most important things in our lives.  You’ll have to be introspective and willing to challenge yourself on this.  With regard to materiality, we should ask ourselves whether we are tearing down barns to build greater barns.  This would make a great topic for a family council.

Second, let us give of our means, meaning primarily our money, to the poor.  It would appear that in our stake, we give, on average, less than 1% of our income to Fast Offerings.  That doesn’t account for the financial support we provide to the poor or to humanitarian efforts through things other than Fast Offerings, but it’s an interesting point of reference.  What is the right amount to give?  Only you may decide that.  My life experience teaches me that the more I give, the more I receive.

Third and last, let us teach our children to support the poor.  Many youth in the stake have jobs.  Many youth and children receive allowances.  We are very diligent about teaching them to pay their tithing.  Teaching them to pay “of their abundance” to help the poor is perhaps something we could do more of.  Statistically speaking, it is very rare for a child or youth to pay fast offerings.  That should probably give us pause.

Brothers and Sisters, I believe that where much is given, much is required.  I also believe in the law of the harvest.  We reap what we sow.  We are judged as we judge.  God forgives as we forgive.  He blesses as we bless.  He is generous with us as we are generous.  “Cast thy bread upon the waters:  for thou shalt find it after many days.”

My Patriarchal Blessing admonishes me to bless others with the “abundance” with which I am blessed.  May I and each of us do so I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 

[Afterward

After giving this talk, I received some requests for copies of my talk, “the one about how we’re all rich.”  I also heard references to our being rich.  I heard little or nothing about our need to help the poor.  It left me worried that the primary message of my talk was not effectively delivered.  The main message is not that we’re rich, but that we should be doing more to help the poor.  The fact that we are rich is simply intended to support that main point.  I shall try to communicate better next time!]

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