Thomas Monson, the current Mormon prophet, is well-known for his compassion for others. It is a favorite theme in the talks he gives and in his own life as well. One aspect of his life best-known to Mormons is that as a young bishop (similar to a minister) he had responsibility for a large number of widows in his congregation. He watched over them carefully, bringing them a roasting chicken each Christmas—and thus missing much of the Christmas celebration in his own home—and speaking at each of their funerals.
In the October 1971 General Conference (a semi-annual meeting held and broadcast world-wide) he gave a talk called “With Hand and Heart.” In this talk, he reminded people of their responsibility to help and to love others. He used, as evidence of our responsibility, several examples of how Jesus treated people in His own time.
“ 2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
3 And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed (Matthew 8, King James translation of the Bible.)
Jesus was powerfully busy during His brief ministry, and very important, with a surprisingly large number of followers, given the short period of time in which he had to preach. Despite this, He did not focus His service on those with money, power, or the greatest ability to help Him in His work. In fact, most of His work appeared to be with those who could do little to improve His acceptance in His community. A leper was someone most people preferred to stay away from and certainly not to touch. President Monson points out that Jesus was not harmed by touching the leper, but the leper was healed by the Savior’s touch. From this we can learn the importance of reaching out and touching the lives of others, even those most people prefer to avoid.
In another example, Jesus took the hand of Peter’s mother to heal her. He took the hand of the daughter of Jairus in His to heal her.
His apostles clearly learned from Jesus’ example. One day, Peter and John were leaving the temple when a disabled man who was brought there each day to beg asked them for money. He didn’t appear to know who they were. John asked the man to look at them, which the man did, clearly hoping for a gift. Peter told the man he had no money, but that he would give the man what he had to give. He then commanded the man to stand up and walk. President Monson points out that we often conclude the story there, neglecting to note that Peter didn’t just give instruction—he reached out and helped the man to stand.
President Monson warns people against refusing to help someone because they believe the person brought his problems on himself or will never change.
“A few see beyond the outward appearance and recognize the true worth of a human soul. When they do, miracles occur. The downtrodden, the discouraged, the helpless become “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19.) True love can alter human lives and change human nature.
This truth was stated so beautifully on the stage in My Fair Lady. Eliza Doolittle, the flower girl, spoke to one for whom she cared and who later was to lift her from such mediocre status: “You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.” (Adapted from Pygmalion, in The Complete Plays of Bernard Shaw, p. 260.)
Eliza Doolittle was but expressing the profound truth: When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are. When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be. (Adapted from a quotation by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.)
In reality, it was the Redeemer who best taught this principle. Jesus changed men. He changed their habits and opinions and ambitions. He changed their tempers, dispositions, and natures. He changed their hearts. He lifted! He loved! He forgave! He redeemed! Do we have the will to follow?”
It should be noted Jesus and the apostles did not do background checks on those they served. When Jesus helped stop a woman from being stoned for adultery he did not say, “Well, let me look into it and see what kind of person you are and if you’re worthy of my service.” He served her knowing nothing more than the accusation against her and then talked to her about her responsibility. He treated her with dignity and respect, not as a sinner. Surely that act of kindness impacted her life, but whether or not it did, Jesus did the right thing. We aren’t taught to do the right thing only when we’re sure of the results.
It’s important to note that in these Biblical examples, both Jesus and His apostles did more than just talk. They knew sermons alone could not solve the problems faced by these people. Action—service—was needed. Moreover, it was personal service and included physical touch in most cases. This suggests that while donating to charity, for instance, is important in order to allow larger-scale projects to occur, it does not remove the need to do personal service as well. We must meet needs one-on-one, giving something of ourselves, and touching others, both spiritually and literally. One-on-one service is the most meaningful. It has more power to change lives than even the best institutional service and gives us more of an opportunity to meet exact needs in a personalized way.
President Monson’s message, in this talk, is to give with both our hands and our hearts because loving service changes lives. He promised that if we follow the Savior’s example in serving with both hand and heart, we can “lift and love our neighbor to a newness of life.”