(Image Credit: Cbpp.org)
This discussion soon turns to the abuses of the system, people needing to work to qualify for assistance, and more. I have been stopped a couple of times over the last few weeks for my thoughts on the situation. While I know there are those who abuse the program, much like I know many people abuse many government programs, I also know that there are a lot of elderly and struggling families that need food assistance. I also know that when the government reduces SNAP benefits, it sends those who need assistance to the doors of the community food pantries to seek assistance feeding their families. And, I know first hand that many of those food pantries are overwhelmed with requests for food assistance and underwhelmed with resources (i.e. food supply, budget, and volunteers).
Do I see this as a failure of the government? No. Not at all. I never thought it was the government's responsibility to feed hungry families.
Well then who do you think is responsible? That is an easy answer. Take a look at what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
Jesus called his followers to provide for the poor and hungry. He did not command the government to develop programs from the tax base, He charged his church to love on their communities by providing for the sick and hungry.
Was this something new that Jesus sprung on his followers? No, It even goes further back than Jesus' time. Leviticus discusses feeding the poor:Leviticus 23: 22 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.’”
So why has the church not stepped into the gap and solved this issue? That is a really good question. There are churches that are, but there is a significant percentage of churches that are not. One discussion I heard this week threw me for a real loop. The lady talking was on staff at a large old church in the downtown of a historical community. "We cannot afford to consider feeding the hungry. We can barely pay our utility bills." OK, so where in did Jesus say, "Construct a grand cathedral to me as your first priority. Worry with the needs of the people later"? I have done some research and cannot find anything along those lines. He told the rich young ruler, in Mark 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Does that apply to churches where the congregation has dwindled down to a handful that cannot support the building? Sorry to step on toes, but I believe it does. If the facilities operating costs are preventing a church from providing for the hungry and hurting in their immediate community, I believe they have an obligation to reassess their priorities. Sell that expensive building and find another place to meet. There are congregations all over this country meeting in hotels, theaters, and civic centers.
If you are sitting in a church that is not taking the Matthew 25 charge seriously, you need to ask why. And you need to look around and find a way to get involved. It is not a matter of throwing money at this problem and walking away. These are struggling people with real life stories and real value. They deserve to be loved on the way Christ has loved on the church. There are a lot of ways each of us can help by donating can goods, volunteering to collect food and deliver it to food pantries, serving in a soup kitchen, delivering meals to families that do not have transportation. If you own and/or operate a restaurant, are you participating in the Harvest Program or another Food Rescue program or are you throwing away good food at closing time everyday? Jesus even set the example for food rescue when he spoke to the disciples in John 6:12, 'When they had all had enough to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." Can you in good conscious throw away perfectly edible food everyday knowing there are families going to bed without a single meal for the day?
Disagree with me if you will, but I do not believe Jesus called the church to construct majestic cathedrals and turn a blind eye on the hurting and hungry around us. I believe He charged the church and his followers to do good and feed the hungry.