The Sheep and the Wayfaring Man

In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus explains that the way we treat other people has eternal consequences. He gives as examples people who lack six basic necessities: food, water, friendship, clothing, good health, and freedom. In each of these cases, we have an obligation to help the person in need. Those who provide assistance (“the sheep”) will be welcomed into God’s kingdom in the next life. God will say to them, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

The Book of Mormon prophet King Benjamin taught the same principle in different words: “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (Mosiah 2:17). Later in the same sermon, he provided a similar list of people in need:

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 4:26

Shortly before the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at the jail in Carthage, Illinois, John Taylor, who was in the room with them, sang a hymn which elaborates on some of these ways to serve the needy. The hymn, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” is a setting of an 1826 poem called “The Stranger and His Friend,” by James Montgomery. Each verse of the hymn, the narrator speaks of seeing his friend in trouble, rushing to his aid, and being blessed for his service.

I particularly like the emphasis on immediate blessings from Christlike service. It reminds me of King Benjamin’s promise that those who keep God’s commandments “are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41, italics added). Following God brings happiness both now and in the next life.

Here is the text of the hymn, split between the act of service and the reward, alongside the corresponding statement from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Matthew 25:35-36ServiceReward
I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered; not a word he spake,
Just perishing for want of bread.
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again.
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.
I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:I spied him where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock; his strength was gone.
The heedless water mocked his thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised the suff’rer up;
Thrice from the stream he drained my cup,
Dipped and returned it running o’er;
I drank and never thirsted more.
I was a stranger, and ye took me in:’Twas night; the floods were out; it blew
A winter hurricane aloof.
I heard his voice abroad and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof.
I warmed and clothed and cheered my guest
And laid him on my couch to rest,
Then made the earth my bed and seemed
In Eden’s garden while I dreamed.
Naked, and ye clothed me:Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.
I was sick, and ye visited me:
I was in prison, and ye came unto me. In pris’n I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor’s doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him ’mid shame and scorn.
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, “I will!”

In the final verse of the hymn, the “friend” turns out to be the Savior, who says to the narrator, “These deeds shall thy memorial be; fear not, thou didst them unto Me.”

Today, I will strive to be aware of the needs of the people around me and to help meet those needs. I will remember that service brings immediate rewards, and that it also helps us to be prepared to return to the presence of God.

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