So here we are, the modern church, surrounded by homeless people (refugees of a burned out, selfish American Dream), and we sense (rightly) that Jesus would have us care… that he would have us DO SOMETHING. And we want to help – really. To REALLY help. …well, sorta we want that, yeah.
And we discovered a long time ago, in fact even our grandparents knew this, that helping this problem never seems to really solve it. The poor, it seems, you always have with you. (I might have read that somewhere.) And when you give a dollar to a wino, it gets spent on more wine. So, we feel a little foolish for our efforts that seem to never get the traction we want.
Still, we feel compelled to do something. But what?
Oh yeah… grandma always said, “Don’t give the bum money, he will just waste it on booze. Instead, go buy a sandwich for him and give him something to eat instead.” And this truly is wise advice! A hungry person will not pass up fresh food. And you can side step the waste of buying booze by doing this.
But somehow this still isn’t enough, we think. And so we feel a bit perplexed, but sometimes we break down and give the money anyway. We feel foolish for it, but it feels like Jesus would want us to.
Meanwhile, we vote conservative and listen to conservative talk radio hosts and so forth who rag on liberals for wasting money on the poor. This makes us feel even more foolish, and a little torn. Maybe even double minded.
But then some best-selling Bible teachers publish a book that tells us to rethink charity and to change the way we do it so as to be more “effective”. And as part of that process, they even ask you to take an oath not to do for others what they can do for themselves. They basically baptize the idea that if you feed a man a fish; you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you can finally make him go away!
But Jesus just ain’t with that program. Really. Go read the gospels.
Take, for instance, the feeding of the 5000. To be fair, this tale is not intended to be instructional about poverty relief. But just because that is not its intended purpose does not mean it has nothing to do with it. It does. And we certainly see Jesus break all the rules of the best-selling Bible teachers who make it appear that there is no real conflict with your conservative politics and your Bible.
Jesus has his disciples get in a boat and cross the sea in an effort to get away from the mobs of needy people for a bit of rest. But the mobs see where he is going and run there on foot ahead of the boats! When they all meet up again, Jesus feels compassion for them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. They are all in a desolate place where there is little or no resources. And they are hungry and weary from running after Jesus!
The disciples have a brilliant idea. They think Jesus should send the crowds away to the towns nearby to purchase food for themselves. “Problem solved”, they think. And the beauty of this is that they would not be doing for others what the others could be doing for themselves! Wow!
There is just one problem.
Jesus doesn’t like the idea. He says, “You feed them”.
Yeah, you feed them. And of course the disciples suddenly feel inadequate for the task. But in Jesus’s hands, the crowds are fed – at least for one more day. And that is just how Jesus wants it. It points to him as God, as provider, as Manna From Heaven! And that always was about making crowds of people dependent on him!
So, Jesus feeds 5000 for a day, and he gets them to stay! And we could all take a note from that.