A Parable of Jesus Christ
From the Life of Joseph Smith

By Loyal to the Word

         Joseph Smith, as a true disciple of Christ, loved children and was kind to them. And the children loved him back. He often played games with the children, and once said, “my mingling with the boys in a harmless sport like this does not injure me in any way, but on the other hand it makes them happy and draws their hearts nearer to mine; and who knows but there may be young men among them who may sometime lay down their lives for me!”(Leon R. Hartshorn, Classic Stories from the Lives of Our Prophets, p.11). One time during the Nauvoo period, Margarette Mclntire Burgess and her brother, who were at the time mere children, had an interesting experience with the Prophet Joseph Smith. Margarette recalls it this way:


“[M]y older brother and I were going to school, near the building which was known as Joseph’s store. It had been raining the previous day, causing the ground to be very muddy, especially along that street. My brother Wallace and I both got fast in the mud and could not get out, and of course, childlike, we began to cry, for we thought we would have to stay there. But looking up, I beheld the loving friend of children, the Prophet Joseph, coming to us. He soon had us on higher and drier ground. Then he stooped down and cleaned the mud from our little, heavyladen shoes, took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped our tear-stained faces. He spoke kind and cheering words to us, and sent us on our way to school rejoicing. Was it any wonder that I loved that great, good and noble man of God?”
(Hyrum L. Andrus & Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, p.127)

         No doubt the readers can identify with the way the children felt when they became stuck in the mud, all of us having been children ourselves once. To a child, this would have seemed like a very real danger. It must have been the most relieving of feelings to see the Prophet Joseph come to their rescue. No doubt it would have also been a very impressive moment for the children, as well, to have such a close encounter with the Prophet himself. He was not only mayor of the city and its most prominent citizen, but he was revered by all its inhabitants as their crucial link to God Almighty himself.

A Parable of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

         This anecdote displays an act of kindness that is unforgettable in the mind of a child and makes for a heart-warming story. But when examined a little closer it is also a figure and a type for the great Atonement of Jesus Christ. Though the anecdote is not a perfect parallel to the Atonement, to be sure, nevertheless it does provide a striking context through which we may consider the Atonement. All mankind are like children who find themselves in a predicament much like those children in the anecdote – stuck in the mud. The rainstorms of life have created hazardous and treacherously thick mud of sin and sorrow which we must cross through. Yet our little legs quickly become overpowered by the tenacity of the mud, the unrelenting, unyielding, unforgiving mud. And we are trapped. Helpless and fearful, we make a desperate cry. “[C]hildlike, we began to cry, for we thought we would have to stay there” forever.
         But then it is at this point of despair that, “looking up,” we see the kindly Man coming to us, “the loving friend of children.” To the eyes of a desperate child in such a quandary, he is an indescribably welcome sight. We recognize him at once as Jesus Christ, and we know that he has come to help, because he is our friend. He has a warm smile and a gentle manner, yet a strong arm that pulls us out of the mud without any difficulty. As the story says, “He soon had us on higher and drier ground.”
         Then in a humble manner seemingly not fit for his dignity and inherent majesty, “he stooped down and cleaned the mud from our little, heavyladen shoes.” Without hesitation and without complaint, he begins the work of cleaning our garments of the mud and filth. When once in ancient times Jesus was washing the feet of his disciples, Peter, his friend, initially refused the procedure, considering it not a fit service for the Christ to perform. But Jesus said, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me” (John 13:8). And so it is with all of us who are in need of cleansing. If we do not allow Christ to do his work on us, we have no part in his kingdom.
         Even as the mud transfers from our little shoes to his garments during the cleansing process, there is no resentment for it. Instead, it seems like something that he expects to happen. When Jesus will return to this earth, he will wear clothing deep red in color. It is a symbol for his blood, which was shed in place of our own, so that we could be rescued. “I have overcome and have trodden the wine-press alone,” Jesus will say (D&C 76:107). He then takes “his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped our tear-stained faces.” Of Jesus it is written that his Father “hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isa. 61:1). That is his mission. “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).
         Then “He spoke kind and cheering words to us, and sent us on our way…rejoicing.” “Be of good cheer,” Jesus says, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And we have reason to be cheerful because of Jesus Christ. Though the traps of thick mud and sludge might be dismaying to us little children, even when we think we have sunk impossibly deep, Christ can manage it.
         And the final parallel between this story about Joseph Smith and the Atonement of Christ is this: all those who have been partakers of the miracle of Jesus Christ’s forgiveness can say, “Was it any wonder that I loved that great, good and noble [M]an of God?”


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