A Follow-up to "On Feeding the Poor…"

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : August 24, 2007

In an earlier post, I asked:

Is there any real difference between these ?rich? people (who feed food to the homeless once a month, don’t eat with them, and then go to a spendy bar afterwards) and those of us who do occasional stints with the poor or downtrodden only then to return to the safety of our middle-American lives?

The answer, in my mind, is “only in matter of degree.”  Qualitatively, it is the same sort of behavior.  Of course, it is better to feed the poor and then drink mimosas than it is to do nothing.

I agree with Ariah:

If you actually look at Jesus? life I think the example we see gives more evidence for avoiding ritzy dinners, eating in the parks and soup kitchens with the least of these, avoiding pious charity events and changing our lifestyle and attitudes so that we are amongst and in relationship with those we intend to ?serve.?

And Chris brings some good perspective:

…what makes anyone think the homeless would want to eat with you? Imagine having to make conversation with dozens of groups of people over the course of your evening meal in any given month. Would you enjoy that? I would find it hard to want to develop a relationship with any of the people I met, especially if I was only going to see him/her once a month. All that to say that I don?t really think sitting and eating the meal you?ve served a homeless person with him/her would tip the ethical scales one way or the other, and probably wouldn?t make too much difference to him/her.

In the end, I think the issue is this: how are you living your life? What are the regular rhythms? The way of Christ isn’t supposed to be an American “life as usual” punctuated with the occasional saintly event (like going to church, serving in a soup kitchen, etc.) The call to follow Christ is the call for radical departure.  It is a new way of living…one that touches everything.  It is the way of continual hospitality and compassion.  It is life for and among the “least of these.” It is a life of spiritual rhythms and flowing justice.  Justice can’t be planned in your blackberry.  It can’t be penciled in your day planner.  Nor is worship an event. 

Chris’ question is valid: let’s say that these dudes sit with the poor when they eat and then omit the mimosas? It is still only a monthly event.  The rest of the time they are probably living the American Dream.  To follow Christ is to wake up from the American Dream and open our eyes to the Kingdom of God.

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6 Responses to “A Follow-up to "On Feeding the Poor…"”

  1. Jonas Lundström on August 24th, 2007 1:13 pm

    I have a question regarding “the least” (Matt 25). This seams to be a central text to emerging churches, discovering Jesus in the poor and all that. And I really think we (including myself) have to move in the direction of crossing social and economic boundaries and hanging out with the poor, and my own experience is that God really likes it when we do this. Jesus did it, for sure. But, I also have some doubt about the common interpretation of Matt 25. Is Jesus really talking about all the hungry etc in the world? To me, it seems that Jesus in Matthew identifies himself with, and give the name of “sister”/”brother” only to Jahve´s people. If that is the case, it seems more natural to read Matt 25 as a text about how we relate to each other within God´s people. Of course, this love have to overflow, but I have a hard time viewing every poor man or woman as a “brother”/”sister”. I also think that Jesus talks about God´s (worldwide!!!!) family because it corresponds better with 2 Kor 8-9, James and Gal 6:9-10.

    I would love to hear your comment on this one, Mark.

  2. Matthew Shedden on August 24th, 2007 1:20 pm

    One might also think of Luke 14:12. Not to rag on soup kitchens because they do tons of great work, but we often do that instead of following the command that lunch and dinners and buffets should not be for the rich, but for the marginalized. For instance, what would it look like if this women and her friends took some of the homeless folk with them to this buffet, or perhaps provided dinner that in their homes for some of them. Soup kitchens are great at creating that safe barrier that allows me to feel like I was involved in helping the poor, without any contact with them. In someways this is counter-incarnation, and often the point of Jesus’ parables on the poor the point is a place of contact, more than it being successful. I think we get caught up in the difference it might make for them, rather than the radical difference it might make for us to have contact with people who marginalized. While I agree with Ariah too, in Luke he is eating at a Pharisees House. So I don’t Jesus avoided those things, but no matter where he went he brought with him the kingdom, and kingdom ethics that saw a radical transformation of a ritzy charity event might look like; if the homeless where also invited to dine with those in tuxes.
    Thanks for posting the article, and it was great to hear the conversation.

  3. Beth on August 25th, 2007 9:56 am

    This post fascinates me and resonates with me. I have been thinking about the issue of “the poor” for several years now. Usually the thoughts and conclusions I reach seem to be quite off-putting to people. I question whether it’s “ok” to be rich, in a world where people die in poverty. I see in Scripture that we are commanded over and over again to care for the poor, the orphans, the widows; to seek justice and to love one another as ourselves. If this is so, then how is it right for Western Christians to live nice cushy “American dream” lifestyles? I would love to hear what you think about this (everytime I try to discuss it with fellow Christians, they seem to get offended, and make claims about having the right to have a nice lifestyle, and be rich if they work for it, etc).

  4. Chris on August 26th, 2007 4:44 pm

    I agree, Mark, this post brings up some great thoughts and issues. I would briefly take exception Ariah’s comment, that Jesus avoided “ritzy dinners.” The biblical evidence is to the contrary in my view. The indictment of Jesus’ practice of dining with “sinners” by the Pharisees is often taken by us to mean that the “sinners” had committed other sins besides the ones you might expect at a decadent party (gluttony, greed, excess, etc.) That is, the people Jesus was eating with had achieved their sinful status through means other than at the party. I think it’s entirely possible that Jesus often ate with people engaged in sinful activity in front of him, which at a party could include that same “mimosa-drinking” activity we all recoiled against in the story you quoted. Just a thought.

  5. Maria Kirby on August 27th, 2007 9:29 pm

    I personally don’t like the concept of charity (dinners or otherwise) or its incarnation as soup kitchen. It smacks of self-righteousness- ‘I’ve gotta help you out because you’re not good enough in some way or doing things the right way’. While it may be true that those who are in need of charity are there because of poor choices on their part. Its also true that for the grace of God there go I. Fortunately, I did not experience the full consequences for the mistakes I made. If we’re going to have a soup kitchen I would prefer it to be of the stone soup variety. (Maybe some are more familiar with nail soup instead.) It would not be unreasonable to ask persons to bring $1 worth of their favorite vegetables (or meat). $1 would buy two pounds of carrots, or potatoes, or a pound of beans. If the host facility would provide a hot plate, a big pot, water, utensils, cutting boards, a way to wash the vegetables, spices, disposable dishes, and supervision (like what spices to add and collecting utensils back again), then those who attend can contribute to their own meal. They can prepare the vegetable they brought and add it to the pot. And while everyone waits for the food to cook, there can be games, songs, story telling, maybe even a movie. And I would be very surprised if there weren’t leftovers. A stone soup kitchen levels the differences between those who have and those who have not. And the sharing time while waiting for the meal makes the community that we desire in Christ Jesus. Those on the bottom have lost their self esteem, their desire for life, their hope. If we can enable them to help themselves, we do them a much better service. When homeless people contribute as much to their meal as any of the rest of the attendees it levels the playing field. Instead of communicating the message ‘be like me’, we would be able to more clearly communicate the message ‘be like Jesus’, who was by the way homeless.

  6. Ariah Fine on September 4th, 2007 10:29 pm

    Points well taken from the others comments. What I meant to imply by the ‘ritzy’ dinners comment was in connection with the type of superior elitist dining that seemed to be occurring in the original story. Jesus certainly dined with the elitist crowd, but I think he did it in a way that clearly conveyed he was not a part of that crowd.

    In response to Jonas, here’s something I wrote a while back:

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