A distinct, and distinctly poetic, section in Alma Chapter 4, introduced by verse 11 but which properly comprises verses 12-14, begins with the statement: "Yea, he saw great inequality among the people," and ends with a forward look to "the will and power and deliverance of Jesus Christ." We can name this little section: "Yea, he saw great inequality among the people."
Yea, he saw great inequality among the people, some lifting themselves up with their pride, despising others, turning their backs upon the needy and the naked and those who were hungry, and those who were athirst, and those who were sick and afflicted.
Anyone reading that first sentence in verse 12 today might recall something or other said by Bernie Sanders (or anybody else) in the 2016 presidential campaign. "Great inequality among the people" describes our own condition. But America's in the midst of a troubled political campaign, a campaign that evokes those described in Alma Chapter 2 or Helaman Chapter 1, so I hate to weigh in. You read those chapters--then just stick around for 2020 or 2028. In the midst of "great disputations" we go.
Where did all these people in needy Zarahemla come from? The first three chapters of Alma make it clear: a swift and terrible civil war had also led to a foreign invasion. By war's end, flocks and farms were left desolate; there was many a widow and many an orphan. These displaced and dispossessed flocked into the capital parts of the country, and were likely to be seen on every street corner in Zarahemla. Today I think of the lovely, the urbane, the literary, the moral, the pious, that stream from war-torn Syria. I liken Alma's words to our day in the history of the Church.
In Alma's book everyone's continuously on the run, war is perennial, and inequality and inequity--and iniquity--are principal themes.
How does Alma take up the theme? In various ways. But in chapter four, Alma summons an array of verbs that contrast how different types of people address inequality. He clearly gives us two groups of people; I don't mean to say the haves and the have nots, rather the give nots and the givers. Yet Alma's dynamic verbal description of how different people address inequality goes beyond two distinct or stereotyped groups: he's looking for verbs that cover the ground attitudinally, and he also gives us various little verbal pictures of service.
The second group, the givers of various sorts, are both more active and thus also more alive--they feel more of both pain and joy; the first group remains hauntingly distant: they stand and turn, but the one emotion is that of despite. Despite knows neither sorrowing, suffering, nor joy. Despite may not indeed be an emotion at all, but only a stance. To despise is to pretend to feel or to think something; but, you've turned away now, so we'll never know if a fluttering of the heart shows any life or not.
An array of verbs thus marches past us in Alma's three verses:
lifting (themselves up), despising, turning (their backs), abasing (themselves), succoring, imparting, feeding, suffering (for Christ's sake), looking forward, retaining (a remission of their sins), being filled (with great joy).
Those who lift themselves up contrast nicely with those who abase themselves. Lifting themselves up and turning--Who are these? Approached by the poor--these could be lesser judges or the like, who sit at the gate--they stand to show their glitter and glory, and despite, then turn and walk away. Maybe they do not stand as tall as they think; thus they turn and slink away. But all the needy see is total rejection. Fast comes the sinking feeling in the stomach. There were great lamentations among the people, for these were not street beggars, but those about to perish--the orphans of war.
The other group does not stand on approach, it kneels or bows in greeting--and then runs (suc-cor) to the aid. Here the suffering is shared. There's going to be a price for serving the needy. As you impart, you drain yourself away--you must come to hunger. Abasing, succouring, imparting, feeding--the verbs are very active here, and lend pictures to the mind. But passive "suffering" also inevitably follows. And there's a second reason for suffering: Though they have stood up and turned and walked away, the despisers are never far off, and are ever going to harass and harangue both the have nots and the give alls.
The verbal train also shows that feeding and clothing the poor is never going to be sufficient--the burden will be too great: for the poor ye have always with you--which also means that help from most members of society is never forthcoming. Looking forward is the only solution. So the verbs continue: looking forward while yet serving, and serving so unceasingly that the heart is ever more and more being filled with great and greater joy, as we all await both the salvation of the poor and the all-rectifying resurrection of the dead by the will and power and deliverance of Jesus Christ.
Doctrine and Covenants 56:18-19 promises that the poor "shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs. For behold, the Lord shall come, and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice."