You should not despise the hungry soul, and you should not aggravate a poor man in his need.
-Sirach 4:2 (CEB & CPDV1)
A number of years ago, there was a young man I would see on the corner, who was asking for hand outs. One day, as I was giving him a drink of water; a middle-aged man with a pony-tail, driving an older Mercedes coupe, called out to me from his car window, "don't give him anything, I know him and he is a ____."
If you had to boil all sin down to one common denominator, I think it would be pride. Pride is always looking for a way to look down on others. Pride always says, "I am God".
The person following Christ and saved by Christ has walked away from the life of pride. Jesus humbled himself to come to earth to save mankind. Christ followers humble themselves before God and in this life with other people and do not look down on others. Many people who are in Christ now realize they would not be alive today without Jesus and live each day in that thankful reality.
The Jewish people who were wanting to walk with God and do the right thing in the one or two hundred years before Jesus Christ and the early church of Christ were very interested in godly wisdom. The book of Sirach was so popular with the early church that it was nicknamed the "church book". Those who were new in Christ had the same questions of, "now how shall we live?" Here is an 8 minute video on Sirach by a couple of theologians at the University of Nottingham, if you want to learn a bit more about Sirach.
Poor people, hungry people, or people who lack have feelings too. They can be grieved and they can be made to feel despised. They can be made angry and they can be aggravated. Wisdom says to you and me, "don't do it". Don't grieve them, don't despise them.
Hungry people are hungry for what they are in lack of. For homeless or poor people, that is food. To not grieve them would mean to meet the need that causes the hunger. To not despise would mean to honor and love with action by feeding and clothing and befriending.
These words, like much wisdom, sound like common sense. It is sanctified common sense. But, many people who say they are Christ followers grieve and despise hungry people. We do that by ignoring them, judging them unfit for our care, and we even adopt crass, twisted theology that says they are getting their punishment. I'm embarrassed to even type those words.
If we have been filled, the gospel gives us an obligation to meet the need of the hungry people we encounter, especially in the church community. Notice that Jesus says, "give us the bread we need for today"(Matt. 6:11). I'm afraid that in our western rugged individual, consumerist, narcissistic christian culture; we think Jesus says to us to pray instead, "give me today my daily bread". We apply "us" to "self" and "we" to "me and my immediate family".
My pastor taught us that "daily bread" means, "tomorrow's bread today". He said this because the Greek word for daily is a word that means a lot more than daily. It means "the coming day", or literally "super substantial". Donald Hagner suggested the translation, "give us today the eschatological bread that will be ours in the future"2. Dr. Hagner argues that Jesus instructs us the pray for bread for all, with the banquet in heaven in mind, where there will be no hunger.
All Christians are one church in Christ. Jesus is the one loaf:
Since there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, because we all share the one loaf of bread. -1 Corinthians 10:17So, we all share Christ and we also share bread, so that no one among us is hungry. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this in Life Together:
"We share our bread. Thus, we are firmly bound to one another not only in the Spirit, but with our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our community unites us in a firm covenant. Now no one must hunger as long as another has bread, and whoever shatters this community of our bodily life also shatters the community of the Spirit. Both are inextricably linked together. For the Lord meets us in the hungry."
I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. -Matthew 25:35Bonhoeffer finally says:
"As long as we eat our bread together, we will have enough even with the smallest amount. Hunger only begins when people desire to keep their own bread for themselves. That is a strange divine law. Could not the story of the feeding of the 5,000 with two fish and five loaves have this meaning among many others?3"True walking with God is lived out in sharing food (Isaiah 58:17). Sharing is the heart of God (John 3:16) and sharing food is part of that. Feeding the hungry and sharing bread is the heart of God that we share. The table of fellowship and the extension of that table into the world, is a place of sharing and stopping hunger. This is authentic living in Christ and authentic ministry.
1. Catholic Public Domain Version (2009): a new translation of the Latin Vulgate, using the Douay Rheims as a guide.
2. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary, 1993; pp. 144-50.
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 73-74
The work of art above is by: Sperindio Cagnola, Works of Mercy (Feed the hungry), 1514 -24, Paruzzaro, San Marcello Church.