After thinking in last month’s letter about what it means to wrestle with God, my focus in this month’s musing picks up on the second theme I raised in August’s communion service – that of the Church as a place to feed the needy. We can immediately think of this as an act of charity, but we should consider what it means for the Church to serve God in a ministry that Jesus demonstrated, where need and response mean more than a bread and fish supper.
Feed the Needy
The story of the feeding of the five thousand (or indeed any of the biblical stories of the feeding of the multitudes) gives us the second area a Church should focus on. In these narratives, the gospels tell us that a large number of people have come to hear Jesus, some have been following him for several days, and he says to his disciples that they should be fed. After they have come to hear him, he recognises that the people have a need for food – something to give them sustenance and provide for them. He doesn’t offer a never-ending banquet, but something miraculous occurs that allows him to provide resources that feed the needy.
The challenge to feed the needy, of course, doesn’t relate only to our ‘foodbank’ society. The brilliant film, ‘I, Daniel Blake‘ outlined the needs seen not that far from the leafy streets around St Andrew’s, and echoed the tales of those supported by the Bay Foodbank locally. But giving of loaves and fishes doesn’t make the Church live out its calling alone.
The needs of those around us aren’t simply about food and sustenance, as they appeared to be for the five thousand. Instead, we live in a society in which people are in need: desperate for love; yearning for acceptance; hungry for justice; empty of joy; thirsty for equality and fairness. We live in a society that is influenced by many trends that we may find impossible to fathom. The rise in the internet, social media, and technology, are definitely alien factors for many people. But other developments have taken place too: the loss of jobs for life; zero hour contracts; ease of social mobility; increased personal debit; increased activities for children and families at weekends; trends in cohabitation and away from marriage, and of course the moves to legalise marriage between two people of the same sex. People are in need of love, acceptance, justice, joy, quality and fairness in ways that they weren’t 20, 40 or 60 years ago. People’s needs are different; people need something different from the Church.
When we think about what it means to the feed the needy in the world today, we have to think about what it means to help those who are without food, without shelter and without means to live. There’s always more we can do as a Church in our charitable giving and our support of charitable causes. But we also need to think about the other needs that we can feed – the other ways the Church can reach out to those who are in need of love, acceptance, justice, joy, equality and fairness – and how those needs need our response.
As we think about all those who have needs in our community, perhaps we can think about the miraculous way Jesus fed those multitudes with what they needed, showing love to all. When we can see those needs, and work out what our response might be, we’re on the way to feeding the needy in our midst.