In his monthly ward news letter recently, an effective, dedicated young bishop wrote of a group of religion instructors taking a summer course on the life of the Savior and focusing particularly on the parables.
When final exam time came, the bishop wrote, the students arrived at the classroom to find a note that the exam would be given in another building across campus. Moreover, the note said, it must be finished within the two-hour time period that was starting almost at that moment.The students hurried accross campus. On the way they passed a little girl crying over a flat tire on her new bike. An old man hobbled painfully toward the library with a cane in one hand, spilling books from a stack he was trying to manage with the other. On a bench by the union building sat a shabbily dressed, bearded man with a sign: "I need money to eat. Please help me."
Rushing into the other classroom, the students were met by the professor, who announced they had all flunked the final exam.
The only true test of whether they understood the Savior's life and teaching, he said, was how they treated people in need.
Their weeks of study at the feet of a capable professor had taught them a great deal of what Christ had siad and done. But nothing they learned in class stuck as effectively as the lesson learned form the professor's staged "exam."
So it may be with us. Thousands of Latter-day Saints are assembled on Temple Square this week for General conference of the Church. Hundreds of thousands more will participate by watching conference in thier homes or through satellite broadcasts.
They will be taught by masters, anointed servants of the Lord. They will hear the Words of Life. they will be taught in detail how they can conduct their lives in accordance with that Word.
They have hurried to get here; the world is so much with us that it takes hurrying just to keep up. They will hurry home, and will hurry through their daily tasks so they can find time to share with families and neighbors and congregations the inspiration and instructions of the conference.
But with all they have learned and will learn, they may in their hurry, if they are not careful, flunk the final exam.
The bishop's newletter message went on:
"You and I, like those religion instructors, profess to follow the teachings of Jesus. We have voluntarily taken upon ourselves His name. We are admonished to bear one another's burdens, mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort." (See Mosiah 18:8-9)
Each day, he wrote, we meet people in need - an accident victim, someone trying to move a heavy load, and elderly couple with an unraked lawn or unshoveled walk, a woman standing by a stranded car, a stranger seeking direction, a vagrant seeking pocket change.
Such needs are easy to recognize. Usually it is not too difficult to help. The unseen and often more urgent need is the one we are more likely to pass by.
We don't see, unless we are looking, the need of the husband whose care for an invalid wife makes it impossible to leave the house on routine errands unless someone comes in to sit with her. We don't see the loneliness of the once3-vibrant elderly woman no longer able to attend the meetings and enjoy the sociability she so much loved. Or the quiet despair and need for loving support of the mother agonizing over a wayward child. Or the hunger for fiendship of the man sitting sullenly alone, not able to make the moves to achieve companionship.
Those in too much of a hurry to attend to the routines of living, or even the routines of administering the affairs of the wards and stakes of the Church, too hurried to listen for silent calls for help, fail to meet what Christ so clearly taught is our major responsibility.
More than anyone else, service to others blesses the giver.
Through habits of service and thinking of others, we develop qualities of sensitivity and generosity. We become more aware of and grateful for our own blessings. We become more filled with love and brotherhood. We become more like Christ.
And that, ultimately, is what the final exam is about.