Those who know me, and my background with charities, will know that I am orientated towards people giving money and using that money to meet needs. But this article is about sharing, and sharing is different from just giving money. Sharing is not necessarily better than giving money, but the emotional impact is greater. Sharing food is more personal than money and connects people together in an act of love.
Sharing and giving
If we meet a person in need and try to give them money, they may say, “I don’t need charity” and refuse the gift. But sharing our food with them is much more likely to be accepted.
Sharing our food is very personal. There is something about sharing that creates a connection with another human being. It is basically saying, “We are alike. I need food. You need food. I have more than I need and I would like to share it with you”.
I must add that I am greatly challenging myself as I write this. I have not arrived – hardly started in fact. I am comfortable about giving money, and appealing for others to give money, but not so comfortable about sharing my life at a personal level.
The ideal would be to invite those who are hungry home for a meal. Modern culture does not make this easy, and so we may have to be creative and look for other ways we can share with the hungry.
We run a ‘storehouse’ at the church I belong to. Every so often a local supermarket gives us the opportunity to invite shoppers to buy extra groceries and put the extra in one of our trolleys. We take the food back and pass on to the community from our storehouse.
We have been amazed at the generosity of people who have shared their groceries with us, and through us shared with members of the community. If, instead, we had stood there rattling tins and asking for money, we would only have received a fraction of the amount.
People who attend our church are also encouraged to buy extra and bring food to the storehouse at the church building. Those who distribute this food pass on the sharing, the connection and the love of those who have shared out of their surplus.
Fasting that counts
In Isaiah’s day the people of Israel were trying to please God, but they were neglecting justice towards their fellow-man. Religious practices included fasting, or not eating, trying to appease a God who was more interested in their attitude to people than he was in their religious piety. In a famous passage from the Bible the prophet spelt out the kind of fasting that God delighted in:
Is not this the fast that I choose …………
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:7-9 ESV)
You did it to me
in the well-known passage known as ‘the sheep and goats’, Jesus said that our actions towards his created beings matter so much that those actions are treated by God as actions towards him.
Notice the personal nature of those actions. He did not say ‘you donated to a famine relief charity’ or ‘you signed a petition about treatment of prisoners’, but you gave to me, welcomed me, clothed me and visited me. Food and clothes may cost a little, but the real cost is in time and emotional involvement with a connected human being. It is about sharing our lives rather than giving money or just ‘good works’. (I am challenging myself as I write this.)
‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)
Sharing outside our little group
Jesus had been teaching in a remote area and huge crowds were following him. Jesus and his disciples were used to sharing food with each other, but suddenly, being inclusive meant sharing with thousands of others. I think that Jesus wanted to teach his followers not just to care for the needs of the group, but to be inclusive and share with others also.
There was a principle at stake. The statistician in me would have looked at the 5 loaves of bread and declared the situation hopeless. But sharing doesn’t count the cost. As we begin sharing what little we may have, we may well find that we are surprised by how many are blessed through our actions.
But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.”
They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish — unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men.
And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down.
And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Matthew 25:13-17 ESV)
Feed my Sheep
it is soon after the resurrection and Jesus is once again challenging his disciples. He speaks to Simon Peter and tells him that to love Jesus (or God) that he is to ‘feed my sheep’
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep“. (John 21:17 ESV)
I know that this is normally interpreted as feeding in a spiritual sense, but I don’t think that Jesus separates the physical from the spiritual. I suggest that Jesus meant care for the whole person, and this meant literal feeding, or provision of physical necessities as well as providing spiritual care.
Jesus was effectively saying, “Simon, if you love me, then share yourself with my sons and daughters who I have created in my image“.
Everything in Common
Nobody told the early church to share their resources and make sure that no-one was needy: it just came naturally out of the common life they had shared with Jesus. Sharing was the natural and spontaneous thing to do. But now there were thousands and logistics meant appointing men to look after the practicalities.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said,
“It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 4:32-35 and Acts 6:1-4 ESV)
It is natural to have a nostalgic longing, and want to return to the simple early days of the church. But what started as one man being responsible for the common purse when Jesus was on earth, grew to a 7 man team ensuring no-one was left out. But now the church contains over a billion people, very many who are hungry, and the logistics of distribution are daunting.
There are two, equally valid approaches:
- Organise through church networks, government and non-government organisations to create a poverty relief and development structure which will deal with famine, malnutrition and under-lying poverty and injustice. Sharing at a personal level becomes impossible, but through the medium of money, we can indirectly effect the lives of people living thousands of miles away.
- We can still seek to share with people in our communities, directly sharing meals or by giving food or money to a local food-bank.
The early church is spreading. The church in Antioch learn of a food-shortage in Jerusalem. It would be unrealistic for each person to travel the several hundred miles to Jerusalem and personally share their food. Their response was to collect together and send through two people. Whether they sent money, a food convoy, or a mixture of both, we are not told.
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Acts 11:27-30 ESV)
The early church continued to spread and soon reached Europe from Asia. There was still a lack of food in Jerusalem and Paul appealed to the people in Corinth, in modern-day Greece, for a collection (of money) which he would personally take to Jerusalem. Note that again, money was a necessary medium to make the effort practical.
Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:14-15 ESV)
Sharing personally or giving money
In emphasising the ideal of personally sharing our bread, I am not suggesting that this is superior to giving our resources through the medium of cash. in many situations it is not practical to share personally. In other situations offering cash can be offensive whereas inviting to a meal, would be accepted.
Not: ‘Either/or’ but ‘Both, and’
Wherever possible it is good to share our bread, our time, our emotional involvement, with our fellow human beings. This brings about a connection with the other person, and also a connection with God our common creator.
The needs of the human race are great. We cannot close our hearts to people living in poverty in our own country, and those in abject poverty in other continents. Here, we need to use intermediaries such as money, and charities, organisations or churches in the country concerned.
Share your bread and your lives
with those around you,
and lovingly give out of your abundant resources
to those further afield.