Food for the Poor

Food is one of God’s most common tests. Most of us find something to eat every day–several times a day. If we have a lot of money, we have a lot of control over our diet. Perhaps we eat at restaurants a few times a week. Maybe we have a freezer full of meat and a fridge that is well-stocked with vegetables. Perhaps you have an expensive bottle of wine stowed away for a special occasion. When we are prosperous, we often spend our money on good food.

However, people who don’t have a lot of money also want to please their palates and their stomachs. They may not have enough money to eat at a fancy restaurant, but they know how to make a great-tasting meal from simple ingredients that can feed a lot of people. In fact, the tradition of outdoor barbecues is rooted in cultures that didn’t have enough money to buy expensive cuts of meat, but they knew how to cook the less desirable cuts with smoke and spices that imbued the meat with delectable flavors.

There are dozens of Bible verses that command us to feed the poor. In one of the most popular passages, Jesus separates good people from evil people on the basis of how they treated people who were less fortunate. He said to them, “Whenever you fed the hungry, you were feeding me.”

Jesus also demonstrated his care for the needy when he fed 5,000 people with two small fish and five loaves of bread. The Bible tells us that Jesus had compassion upon these people because they had first come to him to be healed of diseases and to learn from him. As evening approached, the disciples suggested that Jesus send the people away so that they could find food and shelter, but Jesus said to one of the disciples, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” But the Bible tells us that when Jesus asked this question, he was testing them.

What was the test? Was Jesus testing the disciples’ faith in God’s ability to feed the hungry with physical food? Yes, at least that was part of the test. However, as we continue to read what happens after this miraculous feeding, Jesus begins to act less compassionately toward this large crowd that had begun following him from place to place. In fact, Jesus runs away from them, finding solitary places. He climbs a mountain and then walks across the sea to escape them. When they finally catch up to him, Jesus says to these people, “Truly, truly, I tell you, it is not because you saw these signs that you are looking for Me, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”

Then, very strangely, Jesus tells these people that if they really want to follow him, they must be willing to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Upon hearing this, many of them turned away from Jesus and no longer walked with him (John 6:66).

It is good to share food with others–and especially with those who are less fortunate. Food pantries and homeless shelters that offer food to hungry people provide valuable ministries to families that might not have enough money to make ends meet.

However, when we seek to serve God, we sometimes need to separate ourselves from people who are taking advantage of what we are offering them. Sometimes people come to us wanting food for their stomachs, but they turn away when we offer Jesus for their souls.

Perhaps there is someone in your life that you have been “feeding” for a long time. Maybe you have helped to pay their rent. You have purchased their groceries. You have given a lot of your time, energy, and resources to help them. You may not want to admit it, but you are getting tired. You think of the Bible verse where Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, and you don’t want Jesus to say, “I was hungry and you did not feed me.” You might be afraid that if you don’t help them, Jesus will send you to hell.

However, this is not what the Bible says. Yes, Jesus does separate the sheep from the goats, but there are dozens of other passages in the Bible that give us different messages, such as the passage that tells us that we should not feed a person who is unwilling to work or the verse that says that the church should not financially support a widow unless she is at least 60 years old, has been faithful to her husband, has raised her children well, and has demonstrated her faithfulness and willingness to care for others throughout her life.

If you truly want to be a disciple of Jesus, and if you truly want to follow him wherever he leads, there are times when you have to walk away from the hungry–just as Jesus did.

Jesus fed the 5,000, but Jesus knew in advance that this miracle was going to cause a problem. Certainly, the Son of God would not have a problem finding enough food to fill their stomachs for the rest of their lives. However, Jesus did not want to fill their stomachs with food. He wanted to fill their hearts with his love. Jesus fed them to test them. He wanted to see if they would still follow him if he stopped filling their stomachs with free fish and bread.

Food is only a symbol of love. Some people love symbols, but they turn away from the real thing. If you have been taking care of someone who is unwilling to accept the love of Jesus, it may be time to end that relationship. God has not called you to feed people who are unwilling to eat the body of Jesus or to drink his blood.

[Do you feel trapped in a situation where you are taking care of someone who is taking advantage of your generosity? Click here to set up an appointment with a Christian counselor who can help you learn how to set healthy boundaries with people whom God has not called you to feed].

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