Is your hunger for bread or justice?

by Kristin on November 8, 2010

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Jeremy Keith

In general, I’m not a big fan of “quotes”—you know, those inspirational messages that people share on Facebook and Twitter, or put at the end of their emails. My brain seems to cloud over when I see one, so it ends up having little to no real meaning.

But every once in a while, a pithy saying gets through to me, like this one did yesterday at church:

“Lord, to those who hunger, give bread. And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.”

From what I’ve been able to uncover, this is a very old Latin American prayer. What I like about it, I think, is the way it so simply demonstrates that there is not a single problem in the world with a single solution. It acknowledges we don’t all have the same needs, the same tasks, the same responsibilities. There are different kinds of hunger, and different ways to meet it. Just because we have bread and a roof over our heads, our job is not done.

Moving from politics and religion to pure compassion

I reluctantly wrote a post about politics last week, with a particular focus on what our responsibility is to others. The post generated a lot of comments (at least what I consider to be a lot, on this blog). Clearly caring for others—how we go about it, what excuses we use to avoid it—is a big, messy topic.

It’s such a big topic, in fact, that we can argue endlessly about it. What are the biggest needs—food, jobs or education? What are the best ways to meet those needs? What are the responsibilities of religious organizations? Government organizations? Should we focus our attention on the most immediate needs or the systemic issues?

What I’m beginning to realize is how pointless these arguments are, and how much they get in the way of doing anything of value. Our debates fly around making us look busy and caring and engaged, when in fact we’re often allowing them to serve as convenient excuses to do nothing. Some people need bread, some people need to be woken up to care about the needs of others. There’s no shortage of important work to be done. The key is to do something—to push beyond the overwhelming feelings of indecision that paralyze us. There is no right or wrong way to help, beyond not helping.

A vision of a different world

I don’t usually quote big passages of the Bible, but as I was trying to wrap my mind around this issue, I came across Isaiah 58. It hit me like I’ve never really read or heard it before, saying so much, so perfectly: Our love for God should not be shown through religious rituals, but through caring for others. And when we begin to truly care for others, in these big picture, complete ways, the entire world is transformed into something of great beauty, peace and healing.

We, in fact, will be healed in the process—all of us, who think we have pretty much everything we need, who see our lives as mostly put together and whole. We need healing, too. Our world, our lives, can shine and flourish in ways we can’t even imagine. And it all starts with loosening the chains of injustice and sharing our food with the hungry. Just read this—even if you don’t take much stake in the Bible—can you picture it, too?

Isaiah 58:6-11

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

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  • Ray Hollenbach

    “There’s no shortage of important work to be done . . . There is no right or wrong way to help, beyond not helping.”

    I love this post, Kristin, and I’ve nothing to add other than “amen.”

  • ed cyzewski

    I love Isaiah 58. The “haves” need the healing that comes by pursuing justice. I confess, it’s really tough to find the time for this in the hamster wheel of life. There’s always something else I haven’t done yet. I’m afraid to step into our bedroom with all of the projects in there I’ve neglected such as laundry and hanging pictures on the wall. And yet, there’s an appointment I need to make related to serving locally that I’ve also been putting off. I think the latter will do everyone much more good than the former! Thanks for this challenge.