Sunday, September 5, 2010

Zion: A Radical Vision

Jesus taught of two ways.  “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  (Matthew 7:13-14)  Lest any disciple fancy the possibility of dual loyalties Jesus said this: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”  (Matthew 6:24) 

“Mammon” in both Late Latin and Greek meant “wealth” or “riches”.  Mammon was personified here as another master, another god beside the Lord God.  Jesus followed up by illustrating the way God cares for his creations.  “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.  Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?  Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.  Are ye not much better than they? …But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.  Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  (Matthew 6:25-26, 33-34)

Living this way takes tremendous trust.  I don’t think many of us have that kind of faith and it seems quite opposite to the way we actually live.  But this is the way of the Lord God.  The other way is the way of Mammon.  Mammon has been a very popular god and has had very charismatic and powerful prophets.  The god of Mammon promises power and influence.  Worshippers of Mammon see the world in way that makes these things seem most important.  All other norms and standards are contingent and can be altered and amended if needed in the drive to pursue wealth.  Murder, theft, plunder, laundering, extortion and other heinous acts become virtues in a world-view dominated by the love of money.  But in the way of the true God the love of money is the root of all evil.

Consider this passage from Paul.  “For 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.  But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” (1 Timothy 6:7-11).

The story of Cain is a parable to us about the root of evil in this world.  We have accounts in Genesis and Moses.  Cain loved Satan more than God and Satan commanded him to make an offering unto God.  However, this offering was not accepted and Cain was very angry.  Thereafter, Cain made an unholy covenant with Satan.

“And Satan swore unto Cain that he would do according to his commands.  And all these things were done in secret.  And Cain said: Truly I am Mahan, the master of his great secret, that I may murder and get gain.  Wherefore Cain was called Master Mahan, and he gloried in his wickedness.  And Cain went into the field, and Cain talked with Abel, his brother.  And it came to pass that while they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel, his brother and slew him.  And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.” (Moses 5:30-33)  Cain’s reason for covenanting with Satan was to “get gain” and he murdered his own brother so that he could take hold of his flocks.  The next verse is instructive.  “And the Lord said unto Cain: Where is Abel, thy brother?  And he said: I know not.  Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Moses 5:34; Genesis 4:9).  Cain’s question is an important one.  Though most of us have not murdered to get gain we have neglected to be our brother’s keeper.  What is the responsibility we have to our brothers and sisters in this world-wide family?

We often think of the Law of Moses as cold and unfeeling.  In truth, the Law of Moses was in many ways more compassionate than the norms of our modern society and culture.  Under this law, all debts were released every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-2).  There could be the temptation not to lend near the time of the seventh year because the debt would never be repaid.  But the Lord admonished thus: “If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, not shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.  Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest nought…” (Deuteronomny 15:7-9)

Under the Law of Moses, strangers passing through someone’s fields could eat their grapes or pluck of their corn (Deuteronomy 23:24-25).  But they could not carry it away in a vessel because they would already have sufficient for their needs.  Jesus reminded the Pharisees of this law when they tried to corner him (Matthew 12:1).  Under the Law of Moses everyone was his brother’s keeper.  “Thou shalt not see thy brother’s ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.  And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.” (Deuteronomy 22:1)  “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates.” (Deuteronomy 24:14)  Even punishments were restricted: “Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.” (Deuteronomy 25:3)  There was reservation for human dignity even for criminals.  Always, in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the people were asked to remember the mercy of the Lord upon them in the days of their captivity and so show mercy to each other.  “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  (Deuteronomy 10:19)

But that was the old law right?  Now we are supposed to live the higher law brought by Christ.  And what is this new law?  It in no way frees us from our obligations to each other.  In the new covenant we are brought into even closer fellowship.  We are asked to become Zion—the Lord’s people.  “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18)  In the latter days, very early on, the Lord said to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.  Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich.  Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich.” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:6-7)  Zion was always the vision and the goal of the early Saints.  It was for Zion that they worked, suffered, and even died.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses, to complete it (Matthew 5:17).  It is understood in Latter-Day Saint doctrine that the Law of Moses, though good, was incomplete.  The Lord had originally wanted to give the law in its fullness but was not able to do so because of the hardness of their hearts (Exodus 34:1-2, Joseph Smith Translation; also Jacob 4:14-18).  But Christ brought the fullness though most still could not receive it.  We see this in a famous story.

“And, behold, one came and said unto him [Jesus], Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”  “He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Arguably, the last commandment in the list was the most important and Jesus was to expand on it because the man inquired further.  “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?  Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:16-21)  The man was saddened and could not follow this commandment.  Jesus was saddened to and lamented that “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”  (Matthew 19:24)

Hugh Nibley noted: “The word perfect (teleios) does not mean perfect digestion, perfect eyesight, perfect memory, and so on; it is a special word meaning keeping the whole law.  What remained for the young man, before he could be really serious (teleious), was keeping the law of consecration.  If he did not keep that, he could not be perfect in keeping the others either, in other words, the whole law, for he could not become one of the Lord’s disciples.  So there was nothing but for Jesus to dismiss him—and a very sad occasion it was when they parted… The Lord did not say, ‘Come back: perhaps we could make a deal.’  No, he had to let the young rich man go.  One does not compromise on holy things.” [1]

This is a radical vision and very difficult to swallow in a culture that honors capitalist virtues of self-interest and competition.  In our culture the ideal is that hard work is always rewarded with material success and the lack of it is a reward for slothfulness, or so we think it.  But in the scriptures our independence and self-reliance is called into question.  For are all dependent upon God for all things.

King Benjamin said: “And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance onto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.  Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent… For behold, are we not all beggars?  Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have? …And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain?  Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy… O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.”  (Mosiah 4:16-21)

The great cause of downfall for the people of the Book of Mormon was their treatment of the poor.  To use a modern term they neglected any responsibility toward social justice.  Mormon also saw our day and said this of us: “And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts… For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, 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 8:36-39)

The Lord has high expectations for his people.  He expects us to live the Law of Consecration, to live celestial law and establish Zion.  In a revelation for our day the Lord said: “But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them.  And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:3-5)

These are piercing indictments of our time—and they are unfortunately perennial.  But if we would be Zion the Lord expects greater things of us.  I in no way endorse or support communism or aggressive seizure of wealth—this is not consecration.  Consecration is the “association with the sacred”.  It is voluntary and it is brought about by pure love.  If Zion is to be established it will be on the principles of love and fellowship.  There are ways in place to impart of our substance—through fast offerings, charities, or general alms.  The true Saints of God are those who have a grand vision of what the world could be like.  To say “Jesus is Lord” is to envision a world in which Christ is king and the present rulers of the world are not.  It is a world of unity where the Lord’s people have “one heart” and “one mind”.  It is a world in which we “lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”  (Hebrews 12:12)  It is a world of peace in which the swords are beaten into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks. (Isaiah 2:4)  When these things are realized and lived the Lord can again call his people ZION.


1.  In Hugh Nibley's speech "Law of Consecration" found in his book Approaching Zion.

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