Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jesus Refused To Feed The Hungry

Jesus refused to feed the hungry.  I know what you're thinking, the Bible says he fed 5,000 on one occasion and 4,000 on another.  You are exactly right, there were times when he did feed the hungry.  However, believe it or not there was an occasion where Jesus refused to feed the hungry.  Kind of messes up our view of a benevolent, compassionate man who went around just taking care of the poor and needy among humanity.  Now, before you start to post some negative comments, hear me out.  I'm not saying we shouldn't help those among us who have needs.  However, I think if we are going to do it in the name of Jesus, perhaps we should first know Him and understand what He did and why He did it.  Otherwise in our attempts to truly help people we may actually be hindering them.   

After feeding the multitude one day, Jesus leaves and goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  A large number of those that He fed the previous day followed Him. They showed up with the expectation that once again Jesus would miraculously feed them all.  However, they were confronted with the harsh reality that the soup kitchen was closed.  No, it wasn't because of a lack of funds or food donations. Jesus refused to feed them because loving them demanded something more than filling their bellies. Think about it for a moment.  How many times do we throw money at a problem and just want it to go away?  It's the American way.  We donate here or there and feel good about ourselves and pat ourselves on the back for our generosity.  We helped feed a homeless person or we gave them a blanket or a pair of socks.  It certainly makes it easier to look in the mirror each morning knowing that we've done our part to help the less fortunate among us. 

Several years ago, I was doing some ministry in the inner city of LA.  We were handing out sandwiches to the homeless.  I remember so well getting off the bus and seeing a lady sitting on the sidewalk.  Starting up a conversation with her I said, "How are you doing today?"  She responded, "How the #@*!# does it look like I'm doing? I'm homeless!"  (Note to self: never open a conversation with a homeless person with that question).  My response?  "Want a peanut butter sandwich?"  She took two.  I know we were only suppose to give one to each person, but I was thinking two sure made me feel better after our exchange.  The truth is that handing her a sandwich was easy. It made me feel good about myself for helping her.  Plus, it sure did away with the awkwardness caused by my pathetic attempt at making small talk.  It's been more than a decade and I've never seen that lady since.  I came home to the comforts of my suburban life and took up life where I left off.  I had done my "christian duty" of loving the least of these.  At least that was what I had tried to convince myself.

Really, I handed someone a peanut butter sandwich and I can call that loving someone?  Actually, I think you can, but I know well that with that woman that peanut butter sandwich offered me an out.  It afforded me a moment to move on to the next person.  I fed her belly that day, but I did nothing that could be truly equated to loving her.  Jesus fed the multitude one day, but when they came back for more food the next day he refused to feed them.  Filling their bellies wasn't the real issue with them and He knew it.  Jesus went to the root, and ran them all off.  He had a conversation with them that was uncomfortable but it went much deeper than the surface issues in their life.  The woman I met that day was hungry but that wasn't why she was homeless.  The "why" though would take much more from me than a nice greeting and a peanut butter sandwich.  The "why" might have meant that I take a seat on the curb next to her in spite of how she smelled, how she looked, or how many walls she had built up around her.  She responded to me that day in the way she did, not because she was hungry.  Sure, she got her belly filled but once I left, she was still bitter, angry at the world, and still homeless. While loving her didn't require me to find her a new home to live in, certainly it required more of me than a peanut butter sandwich. 

For Jesus, loving the multitude that day wasn't feeding their bellies, it was looking beyond their growling stomachs and determining to offer them more than some fish and bread.  I don't want to belittle the idea of meeting the needs of the less fortunate among us but it is imperative for us to look beyond the surface.  Otherwise, in our attempts to love people we'll fail to truly love them.  Do we really want to pat ourselves on the back when we've done what really amounts to putting a Band-aid on a severed artery?  It's true that the hungry need food but if we only focus on filling the natural belly while ignoring what is spiritual and of eternal significance we've missed the point.  Jesus was much less interested in meeting the physical needs of the crowd that day and more interested in meeting their real needs.

I think we struggle with this area because meeting real needs means we run the risk of being rejected.  We want people to love us, not reject us.  Offering a hungry person food increases our chances that hungry people will love us.  Unfortunately, Jesus doesn't instruct us to go into the world and try desperately to get people of love and accept us.  On the contrary, He instructs us to love people. However, loving people is much more difficult than getting people to love us.  Loving people requires much more than feeding a belly.  That part is easy.  Feeding them takes a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread.  There's not one among us who can't pull that off.  Truly loving them though might mean some stink is rubbed off on us. It might require a few more minutes of our time.  It will require us to step way out of our comfort zone.  It will require us to look beyond the surface issues in their life and determine to dive into the deep end with them.  It will require us to speak the truth while running the risk at being rejected by them. Simply put, we have to be more focused on loving people than being loved by them.

In loving people, let's determine to follow Jesus' model.  It's ok and completely appropriate to feed their bellies.  At the same time, let's not pretend that we've done our job of truly loving them until we as the church go beyond what the government or some humanitarian organization can do.  The mandate of the church is not to simply become an agent of humanitarian aid.  Our call is a much higher call.  We are to love humanity beyond meeting a their basic needs. While feeding their bellies let's make sure we are doing it with eternity in mind.  What a tragedy it would be for us to offer someone some bread to feed their hunger while neglecting to offer them the Bread of Life to feed their true hunger.  Jesus closed the soup kitchen for a day, but He never closes the kitchen that offers mankind food to feed his spiritual hunger.  In all we do, let's make sure we are really feeding the hungry what they truly need.

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