One issue I have worked on most in the church is not salvation, theology, interpretation, or any of those. I have worked most in the issue of hunger. The Beatitudes, according to St. Matthew, say that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” shall be “filled.” (Matthew 5:6). St. Luke says that those who “are hungry now for you will be filled.” (Luke 6:21). A quick comparison of these words gives the reader an impression that the two are basically the same statement. St. Luke goes further than St. Matthew in explaining the meaning, “woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” (6:25a) St. Luke offers a blessing with reward and a woe with a curse. St. Matthew does not offer that.
I recall one time when I was working at a food bank when one of the volunteers asked, “Why are we always so busy at the beginning of the month? Don’t people get their EBT cards now?”
I did not have to think about my answer for very long. “Well,” I began, “our clients appear to have decided to come here early in the month to see what we will be giving them. Then, when they know they have received certain items of food for free, they can go to the store and buy the other things they need with the cards.”
He thought it was a good answer. I had not thought about the question until he raised it. There was some quick deduction on my part to arrive at an answer. After all, if I was the food bank client what would I do? My answer showed a certain amount of savvy and planning on the part of our clients. I wondered at how quickly I came to this answer.
The only way I could see that I realized what so many of the food bank clients were doing was because I had been at the food bank week after week for a couple of years before the other worker volunteered. And being present among the people who were what the USDA called “food insecure” allowed me to get to know these people. They weren’t stupid or incapable. They were in need. They were hungry. And, during these weeks while loading boxes of food into beaten up cars, trucks, and vans, I got to know the clients. I was one of the few volunteers who actually had contact with the people we were serving.
Poor people are not the best people in the world. Poor people do not need romanticizing. And, most definitely, poor people don’t need other people rationalizing about who they are and what they really need.
Hungry people need respect from other people. I recall systematic theologian Kendall Soulen asking me about this type of ministry. He wanted to know how we ministered to the poor children and their families while letting them keep their dignity as human beings – as Children of God. It was a fantastic question. It was under the heading of “no one asked me this before.” There were a number of ways of allowing the poor to keep their dignity. All of which require that I as a helper respect their dignity most of all. This point is where the two beatitudes from Ss. Luke and Matthew touch. A judgement is pronounced on those people who could have helped feed the hungry but would not do it. The judgement is also placed on those people who would lord it over the hungry and point out that they were receiving help.
It is a very sobering thought when we realize the “woe” pronounced in St. Luke applies to all of those people who are not poor and hungry. Righteousness (or, if you will, Justice) is found in the recognizing the sacred worth of all persons.
Anyone who may think that St. Matthew was somehow softening an original commandment of Jesus should consider these words. “‘Lord, when was it we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.'” (Matthew 25:45)
Hunger is a threat in every nation, city, or community in our world. We feed hungry people because they are hungry children of God.