“For I was hungry and you fed me…”
In 2000 it was estimated that 925 million people worldwide suffered from hunger, which was caused in part by a spike in global food prices…and you only have to go to the local grocery store to see how high food prices are! Hunger is also the result of the current worldwide recession. In Nova Scotia, food bank use has increased since 2008. The number of working Nova Scotians who are using food banks is also rising because of rising power, fuel and food costs and the lack of affordable housing. People are spending money that would normally go to groceries on necessities such as heat, housing and medication.
The statistics are just as startling locally, and I’m speaking from experience because of my work with the local food bank. It currently serves approximately 400 clients ranging from single people to large families. Now we do not serve all of these clients every week, and except for emergency situations clients are not supposed to come more than once every three weeks. Even so, the list is not getting smaller
So why am I involved in the local food bank? Well, there are two main reasons. First, licensed lay ministers in our Diocese are encouraged to become involved in issues such as parish administration and social justice. Second, and more important, is that I am involved with the local food bank is because I believe in Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:31-46. This passage is an example of the Golden Rule- “Do unto others…” Christ calls us to love one another just like he loves us. One way we can show love for our brothers and sisters in Christ is by feeding the hungry, just like Christ fed the multitudes with 5 small loaves of bread and 2 fish. We are called by Christ to speak the gospel plainly while at the same time caring for the poor. If the Salvation Army can successfully do both of these tasks at the same time, so can we. We need each other, and thus we fulfill the love of Christ. We can be heroes by doing what God wants us to do—and what he wants us to do is to do everything we can to help the poor. God does not ask us to give out of what we don’t have, but he does ask us to give out of what we do have.
We must be prepared to minister to the poor and hungry wherever God calls us to minister to them. Whatever we do for the poor will determine our eternal destiny. When God judges us, he will be looking for the answers to three questions:
- How much truth did he or she know?
- How many opportunities did the person have to use that truth?
- What did he or she do with those opportunities?
Jesus is so identified with the poor that he takes our treatment of them as our treatment of him. If we want to call ourselves true followers of Christ, we must act on our ethical teachings, including the teachings related to feeding the hungry. Failing to do good things is just as damning as doing bad things. Our teachings include doing God’s work in a humble manner without expecting anything in return.
In his address to the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., former United States President Barack Obama made the following comments:
I think to myself, am I willing…to give up some of the tax breaks I enjoy? For me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.’ It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.
President Obama went on to speak about his administration’s work with faith-based groups such as World Vision. If the most powerful man in the free world is willing to do what he can to relieve poverty, and if the most powerful country in the free world is willing to do what it can to relieve poverty, surely we as ordinary people can do what we can to ease hunger.
A few years ago my parish priest made reference in his Lent and Easter message to the economic situation in this area. In particular he wrote:
There is a connection between our worship lives and our witness and social action. The food bank came into being through the action of the local Association of Churches. It was an outgrowth of our Christian faith and commitment, and as our community faces its crises and future, we as Christians will be there and involved.
Paul goes on to echo the same comments in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 when he urges us to “command (the rich) to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age…” In other words, Paul is telling us to use our money on earth for the things of God.
The kindest Christians are those who show kindness without any ulterior motives. Compassion usually calls for a willingness to humbly work in obscurity on behalf of the unknown. Truly compassionate people take risks most people would never take. They give away what most of us would hold onto at all costs. They reach out and touch when most of us would stand back with our arms folded across our chest. Their caring brings them up close where they feel the other person’s pain and do whatever is necessary to demonstrate true concern.
We don’t have to do big things to serve the poor. Little things can help just as much. A kind word or a listening ear can help someone in despair. Helping a stranded motorist change a flat tire can redeem his or her day. The possibilities for mercy are limitless, just as human needs are limitless. The key is to do what we can and do as much as we can. This includes donating food and/or money to the local food bank if we aren’t donating anything at all, or by increasing the amount of our donations to the extent that we are able to do so.
There is a five-stage process that moves someone from being a mere observer to an active participant:
- We must notice that something is wrong.
- We must realize that people need help.
- We must take responsibility to help them.
- We must choose a form of helping.
- We must implement that help.
God calls us to share in the suffering of others as we love and support our suffering neighbours in Christ. By doing this, God uses us in our limitations to extend his love for our suffering neighbours. We will be held accountable for our actions or lack of actions. It doesn’t matter if the neighbour is a close friend or someone we have never met. It doesn’t matter if the neighbour is our best friend or our worst enemy. For example, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, it was the Samaritan who stopped and helped the Jewish man who was beaten and robbed—and the Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies at that time. If a man could help his bitter enemy when his enemy needed help, surely we can help even our worst enemy.
What do hunger, poverty, illness and despair have to do with righteousness? What do they have to do with Jesus? They offer the opportunity to encounter Jesus in acts of mercy, kindness and justice. If only we viewed others the way Jesus sees others every time we look into the eyes of our fellow man. Instead of seeing poverty, hunger, homelessness and imprisonment as social problems to be avoided, we are to see them as gifts to a hungry world, because in their faces shines the face of Jesus. As we serve others, we serve Jesus. As we meet the needs of others, we meet the needs of his surrogates-the ones he loves. Our service to others is a reflection of the condition of our hearts.
Lent involves prayer, works of piety, charity, self-denial and fasting. Christian fasting obtains its full meaning when we deprive ourselves of food in order to be more open to sharing in the suffering of the hungry and to save money to give to the poor. There are those who believe that the hungry are hungry because they deserved to be hungry. We are not to judge them or condemn them. That is God’s job, not ours, because his standards are perfect and higher than ours. Our job is to show Christ’s love by showing compassion for them, because when we do, we become Christ-like.
Mother Teresa once wrote, “When a poor person dies of hunger, it happened not because God did not take care of him or her. It happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.” If we want to love and serve the God we cannot see, then we must serve and love the neighbour we can see. She went on to paraphrase Matthew 25:40: “Jesus made it very clear. Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do it for me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me”.
As I mentioned earlier, the possibilities to serve “the least of these” are limitless. There are so many people who are in need. All we have to do is keep our eyes open to see those opportunities to help people—and to keep our hearts open to respond. The more we share God’s comfort with others, the more it will come forth from our own hearts.
We must address the needs of those at our doorstep and in our local community, but we can’t be nearsighted. We can’t ignore the desperate needs of the poor worldwide. There is an old saying, “Think globally, and act locally”. We can never eliminate hunger by ourselves, but that should not stop us from doing what we can to help the hungry.
- Kelly Regan, MLA, “Housing Costs Drive Food Bank Increases”. Retrieved from www.nsliberalcaucus.ca
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- Margaret Manning, “In the Face of Jesus”. Retrieved from www.rzim.org
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