What does it mean to feed the hungry?
Hunger can be described as a compelling, even painful, need or desire for something to eat.
Scripture talks about it often. Maybe it is because hunger was something that was understood as a major problem of First Century society. In a world that existed before government assistance, food banks and pantries, soup kitchens and meal packaging for places around the world in need, hunger was a true and visible need.
People without means needed food to survive. And, some of the miracles of Jesus directly confronted the biggest social need. Jesus broke bread and fish and fed more than 5,000 people.
And, as a result, people were ready to follow Jesus because he could give them physical bread. Jesus did talk about physical hunger, but he also talked about and pointed to a deeper hunger — a spiritual hunger — that could only be satisfied by a relationship with Christ.
But, here we are, more than 2,000 years later. Do we still have hunger issues? Do we have hunger issues in the most prosperous nations, even the most prosperous communities, in the world? And the answer is yes.
Sometimes the term that we use to describe it is “food insecurity.” In fact, more than 50 million in the United States live in situations where it is difficult to get affordable and nutritious food to eat. Of that 50 million, 10 million are under the age of six.
So many stereotypes exist about those who seek food assistance. Yes, in all systems, there are some who are attempting to defraud or mislead for their own gain. However, in the overall scheme, that number is a lot lower than the stereotypes would suggest.
So, let me share with you some images of those who seek food, those who are hungry:
- It’s a single parent, a single mother or father, struggling to make it from one week to the next and worried about whether their children will be able to eat their next meal.
- It’s those who work, full-time or part-time, but who simply do not earn enough in a week or a month to cover bills and adequately provide food.
- It’s a person who has had a string of situations that have required unexpected expenditures — an unexpected trip to the emergency room, the car breaks down, the air conditioner fails. And, because of those unexpected expenditures, this person finds himself or herself in a situation of choosing between eating and paying the bills.
- It’s a person on a fixed income that barely covers the expenditures that person is making in a month.
- It’s someone who was laid off or let go, who has lost income and who is struggling to find a new job.
- It’s not about an ethnic background. Hunger crosses all human backgrounds.
- It’s those who are unable to adequately care for themselves.
- It’s everyone in society who is a month or two away from having bills outpace income.
- It might be you. It might be someone you know. It might be someone you work with or someone you sat next to at church. The problem is that you really can’t identity a “face” of hunger when hunger has so many “faces.”
Hunger is one of the things that is addressed in the Book of James. The writer, the brother of Jesus, spends some time tackling the issue of favoritism in the church. The “rich” are being treated in a much different way than those in the church who are “poor.”
For James, this issue is inconsistent with the message of Jesus, it goes against the law and it runs counter to the Gospel. Here is how James describes it in James 2:14-18 (NIV):
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
James is pointing us to something that has been consistent with the message that Jesus teaches us throughout the Gospel accounts. First, we are to love God with everything that we are. Second, we are to love others as Christ as loved us (or love our neighbors as ourselves). Then, we are to put that love of God and others into action with tangible acts of faith and love.
It’s not enough to bless someone (pray for someone) without addressing the need that you are praying for.
In this example, James points specifically to the hungry, to those who are poor, to those who do not have the necessities that others have. For James, it’s not enough to bless someone (pray for someone) without addressing the need that you are praying for.
Sometimes, this verse is broken down to simply say that faith without works is dead. James is pointing out that our love of God and our love of others will lead us to express that love in action.
So, let’s take that back to the issue of hunger. How does putting love into action change the stereotypes?
Here are some ways that it might look:
- When we put love into action, we become less concerned about weeding out those who might be taking advantage of systems and we concentrate on helping the vast majority who aren’t.
- When we put love into action, we realize that when we are discussing the issue of hunger and need in group settings that some of the people in the room with us might be some of the very people we think we are trying to help.
- When we put love into action, we move from condemnation of people and their situations and we move to love, compassion and empathy.
- When we put love into action, we treat others with dignity and respect despite their life circumstances.
- When we put love into action, we do more than passively pray about the situation. We do something about it and become God’s answer to our own prayers.
- When we put love into action, we lead with love and realize that love opens the door for us to share our source of love with others.
The “faces” of hunger can be changed when we change the face of our response. And, it all starts with putting love into action.
Everything comes back to Jesus’ statement on the greatest commandments: Love God with everything that you are and love your neighbor as yourself.
Love God. Love People. Feed the hungry.
Love God. Love People. Care for the poor.
Love God. Love People. Do Good.
Love God. Love People. Do Something.
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