Exploring the Biblical meaning of 'Loving Our Neighbors’

Chapter 11

Food and Clothing

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." - Mother Teresa

It was nine months after my layoff. I’d searched for jobs throughout the fall and winter, but found nothing. And the Sierra Nevada foothills where we’d been staying were still humid enough to make my wife’s arthritic spine lock up.

So that spring we headed south with our tent trailer, looking for work where the air was even drier. Los Angeles, with its smog’s effect on our lungs, was a clear "no." San Diego, our previous home, was now too damp for Yvonne’s spine. Finally we circled northward to check the Mojave Desert’s aerospace/defense complexes.

My unemployment checks had ended. Government statistics no longer counted us unemployed. But that didn’t help us buy food!

A promising job lead turned up at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. I chose to wait for a possible interview. That meant parking our tent trailer within driving distance, yet high enough to be out of the Mojave’s fierce summer heat. After a few days near Lake Isabella, we chose the Indian Hills Ranch campground, a comfortable 5,000 feet high, and began attending church in nearby Tehachapi.

At our first Sunday service we introduced ourselves to the minister and briefly explained why we were there. When we arrived for the next service, on Wednesday evening, the entire foyer was lined with more than 40 boxes and bags of food. Curious, we asked the pastor if the church was having a missions food drive.

He smiled and said "No, this is for you!"

I was speechless!

Finally I managed to stammer "But we’re not even members of this church!"

Again the pastor smiled. He pointed toward the ceiling. "You’re members of his church, aren’t you?"

Hunger is widespread in this world, even in "wealthy" countries. American Association of Retired Persons president W. Lee Hammond says that in the US hunger affects nearly 9 million 50-year-olds or older (AARP, The Magazine, December 2011/January 2012, p. 55)..


How does God view "neighbors" who need food or clothing?

He’s filled with sympathy and love.

Jeremiah, the "weeping prophet," was moved by the sight of starving children and adults during the fall of Jerusalem:

"I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken, my spirit poured out, as I see what has happened to my people; little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.

"‘Mama, Mama, we want food,’ they cry, and then collapse upon their mothers' shrunken breasts. Their lives ebb away like those wounded in battle" (Lam. 2:11-12.).

More Scriptures: Deut.10:18; Ps. 107:9; 107:35-38; 109:30-31; 111:5; 132:15; 136:25; 145:15-16; 146:5-7; Isa. 49:10; Lam. 1:11; 1:19.


Are we to feed and clothe the needy?


"The crowd replied, ‘What do you want us to do?’ ‘If you have two coats,’ [Jesus} replied, ‘give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry’" (Luke 3:10-11).

While we lived in Orlando, one of my co-workers lost her job. We had nothing extra in our own budget, but she and her son needed food. So, while we did our own shopping, we took a step of faith and bought food for them.

Our own weekly grocery cart usually cost about $125. That week, we added five good-sized bagfuls for them. That should have cost us more than half again as much – close to $200. But the total came to just five dollars extra!

We’d have bought their food anyway. But to this day I ask: how could that have happened? And the only answer I’ve ever found is: God.

"There are two ways to look at life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is." – Albert Einstein.


More Scriptures: Deut. 12:12; Prov. 22:9; 25:21-22; Isa. 21:14; 58:4-12; Ezek. 18:5-17; Matt. 10:42; 25:35-36; Luke 12:42-44; Rom. 12:13; 1 Pet. 4:8-9.


How did the Old Testament provide for feeding the poor?

Part of each crop was left for immigrants, orphans, and widows.

Every seventh year the land was left unplanted, and the poor shared any "volunteer crops" that grew.

Every third year all the nation’s tithes went to immigrants, orphans, widows, and Levites.

"When you harvest your crops, don’t reap the corners of your fields, and don’t pick up stray grains of wheat from the ground. It is the same with your grape crop – don’t strip every last piece of fruit from the vines, and don’t pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and for those traveling through, for I am Jehovah your God" (Lev. 19: 9-10).

More Scriptures: Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 23:22; 25:1-7; Deut. 14:28-29; 23:24-25; 24:19-22; 26:12-15; Prov. 27:18.


These principles come alive in Ruth’s romantic story:

"One day Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Perhaps I can go out into the fields of some kind man to glean the free grain behind his reapers.’ And Naomi said, ‘All right, dear daughter. Go ahead.’

"Boaz went over and talked to her. ‘Listen, my child,’ he said to her. ‘Stay right here with us to glean; don’t think of going to any other fields. Stay right behind my women workers; I have warned the young men not to bother you; when you are thirsty, go and help yourself to the water.’

"She thanked him warmly. ‘How can you be so kind to me?’ she asked. ‘You must know I am only a foreigner.’

"At lunch time Boaz called to her, ‘Come and eat with us.’

"So she sat with his reapers and he gave her food, more than she could eat. And when she went back to work again, Boaz told his young men to let her glean right among the sheaves without stopping her, and to snap off some heads of barley and drop them on purpose for her to glean ... So she worked there all day, and in the evening when she had beaten out the barley she had gleaned, it came to a whole bushel! She carried it back to the city and gave it to her mother-in-law, with what was left of her lunch.

"‘So much!’ Naomi exclaimed. ‘Where in the world did you glean today? Praise the Lord for whoever was so kind to you.’ So Ruth told her mother-in-law ... the owner of the field was Boaz.

"‘Praise the Lord for a man like that! God has continued his kindness to us!’ Naomi cried excitedly. ‘Why, that man is one of our closest relatives!’

"‘Well,’ Ruth told her, ‘he said to come back and stay close behind his reapers until the entire field is harvested.’

"‘This is wonderful!’ Naomi exclaimed. ‘Do as he has said. Stay with his girls right through the whole harvest; you will be safer there than in any other field!’

"So Ruth did and gleaned with them until the end of the barley harvest, and then the wheat harvest too" (Ruth 2:2; 2:8-10; 2:14-23).


What are some examples of feeding and clothing our "neighbors?"

"Pharaoh ... ordered Moses arrested and executed. But Moses ran away into the land of Midian. As he was sitting there beside a well, seven girls who were daughters of the priest of Midian came to draw water and fill the water troughs for their father’s flocks. But the shepherds chased the girls away. Moses ... rescued them from the shepherds and watered their flocks.

"When they returned to their father, Reuel, he asked, ‘How did you get the flocks watered so quickly today?’

"‘An Egyptian defended us against the shepherds,’ they told him; ‘he drew water for us and watered the flocks.’

"‘Well, where is he?’ their father demanded. ‘Did you just leave him there? Invite him home for supper.’" (Ex. 2:15-20)


"The Lord appeared again to Abraham while he was living in the oak grove at Mamre ...One hot summer afternoon ... he suddenly noticed three men coming toward him. He sprang up and ran to meet them and welcomed them.

"‘Sirs,’ he said, ... Stop awhile and rest here in the shade of this tree while I get water to refresh your feet, and a bite to eat to strengthen you. Do stay awhile before continuing your journey.’

"‘All right,’ they said, ‘do as you have said.’

"Then Abraham ran back to the tent and said to Sarah, ‘Quick! Mix up some pancakes! Use your best flour, and make enough for the three of them!’ Then he ran out to the herd and selected a fat calf and told a servant to hurry and butcher it. Soon, taking them cheese and milk and the roast veal, he set it before the men and stood beneath the trees beside them as they ate" (Gen. 18:1-8).


"When David arrived at Mahanaim, he was warmly greeted by Shobi ... Machir ... and Barzillai ... They brought him and those who were with him mats to sleep on, cooking pots, serving bowls, wheat and barley flour, parched grain, beans, lentils, honey, butter, and cheese. For they said, ‘You must be very tired and hungry and thirsty after your long march through the wilderness’" (2 Sam. 17:27-29).


While we lived near Tehachapi, California, we watched a lone car climb the thousand-foot-high grade leading to the Indian Hills Ranch Campground, pull in, and park beside us.

Art, an 80-plus-year-old member of our church, stepped out and came to the camper door. After exchanging greetings, he said "I’ve been wanting to go for a glider ride at the airport, and I’d saved up the money. Then this morning the Lord spoke to me. And I thought, ‘how can I take a sailplane ride when my brother is in need?’"

Art then took the price of the glider ride from his wallet and gave it to us to buy groceries! His selfless act was one of many ways God helped our family through nearly six years of living with no home, sparse income, and never any public aid.

More Scriptures: Gen. 24:17-33; Judg. 13:10-21; 1 Sam. 30:11-12; 2 Kings 4:8; Job 31:31-32; Prov. 31:19-31; Acts 9:36-39; 11:27-30.


Is withholding food or clothes from the needy a sin?

Job’s friends thought God was punishing him for not feeding the poor.

"Is it because you are good that he is punishing you? Not at all! It is because of your wickedness! Your sins are endless! For instance, you ... must have refused water to the thirsty, and bread to the starving" (Job 22: 4-7).

Matthew 25:31-46 teaches that we’re leaving Jesus hungry and naked when we don’t feed or clothe the poor!

More Scriptures: Judg. 8:15; Job 24:2-12; 31:19-23; Prov. 11:26; Isa. 3:4-9; 3:13-15; 32:5-8; Ezek. 18:10-17; Matt. 25:31-46; James 2:14-17.


How did the early church feed its hungry?

The leaders of the newborn Christian church wanted to preach and also to feed the hungry. But they didn’t have time to do both. What was the solution?

"With the believers multiplying rapidly ... those who spoke only Greek complained that their widows were ...not being given as much food, in the daily distribution, as the widows who spoke Hebrew. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers.

"‘Now look around among yourselves, dear brothers, and select seven men, wise and full of the Holy Spirit, who are well thought of by everyone; and we will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer, preaching, and teaching.’

"These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them and laid their hands on them in blessing" (Acts 6:1-6).

Those men were called "deacons," from the Greek word "diakoneo" ("serve," "wait on," "help," or "care for").

At first, feeding the hungry daily was the deacons’ only responsibility. Gradually they took on other duties. Today many deacons have no feeding programs to oversee. By early-church standards, that’s a scandal!

The churches in Philippi and Ephesus had deacons 30 years after Christ’s crucifixion (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-13). That was too short a time for deacons’ responsibilities to have changed much. So it’s safe to assume both of those churches had active feeding programs. And those two letters of Paul’s sound as if all the early churches had deacons. If so, they likely all had feeding programs too.


Early Christians performed many miracles, but when it came to aiding their hungry they relied on practical, down-to-earth help, and on people specially chosen to make sure it was done well. The key was love.

Yes, miracles do still happen. A special one happened to us one rainy night on a lonely western North Carolina mountain ridge.

A cold, overcast dusk fell as our little car labored up a roughly graveled mountain road toward a friend-of-a-friend’s cabin, where we planned to spend the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The road was the steepest I’d ever seen. It switchbacked up a full thousand feet in just one mile – an average 20% grade!

The road forked at the crest of the ridge. The main branch climbed another half mile to a group of cabins spread across the summit. We turned downhill along a shorter dead-end track, parked at the top of a steep hill, and began carrying our gear down to the neat, attractive cabin.

Now we needed lights, water, and heat. Armed with the owner’s directions, I went to turn them on. The lights responded, but neither the water nor gas. Several tries gave no better results.

What to do? We needed those utilities. By now it was fully dark, raining intermittently, and cold. No lights showed in any other cabin. There was no phone service. If we drove back down to the caretakers, I doubted we’d get back up. Besides being steep, the track was now muddy and slippery.

We prayed energetically, but sensed nothing. However, we did need to finish unpacking the car. So, during a lull in the rain, my five-year-old son Bill and I walked back up the hill for more boxes.

From the car, we could see up to a turn on the "main" road just above our access track. And, suddenly, a pair of headlights eased around that curve and bounced slowly down toward the junction!

A chance for help! "Quick," I told Bill, "follow me." But immediately we saw we’d never get close enough to signal the car before it’d pass the corner and go on down the mountain. It couldn’t see us in the dark.

The headlights reached the junction. And stopped! "Run," I told Bill. He did. The lights still didn’t move. Then, just before we were close enough to be seen, the vehicle started moving away. I shouted. And the lights stopped again!

Gasping for breath, we reached the pickup. The driver was the development’s maintenance man, ‘Jim.’ We explained our dilemma. He followed us to the cabin, easily turned on the gas, and went back to the mountaintop to turn on the water. It started out brown and muddy, and never cleared completely all weekend, but we were as thankful as if it’d been sparkling clear Perrier!

Jim explained that he’d been working alone on top of the mountain. As he came back down the upper road, he spotted a teen-ager on a three-wheeled off-road vehicle. Since the development was private, and the teen didn’t belong, Jim chased him.

But, when Jim rounded the turn where we saw him, the teen had vanished! Jim was puzzled, because the mountainside was too steep for anyone to get off the road. He stopped to try to see where the boy had gone. And that gave Bill and I just enough time to get within shouting distance!

Jim was, in fact, the only other person on the mountain that night except for us and the teenager. Bill and I had reached the one spot where we could see his truck mere minutes before the only time all night that he’d come down that road. The mysterious teen and his three-wheeler disappeared at the single place that could stop Jim where we could hail him. We marveled at how it had all fit together!

The next morning Bill, my daughter Yvette, and I hiked up the now-sunny road to the mountaintop. There we reveled in the fantastic views 1,500 feet straight down to the Catawba River valley and across it to a 150-mile expanse of the Blue Ridge.

And during that walk we discovered there may have been more to the incident than we’d realized.

I’d assumed that the road switchbacked all the way to the summit, and that the teen had just left the road while he was out of Jim’s sight in some turn. Now we saw that, instead, the road curved gently through an open meadow to the base of its final steep ascent.

Jim was right. The only place where the teenager could have gotten out of his sight was the curve leading to our junction. Even then, he’d have been in Jim’s sight during the first half of the turn, and in ours all the way through.

Except we never saw him!

We saw and heard Jim’s pickup clearly. But we saw no other lights! In the quiet mountain night we heard no other engine. No other tires crunched over the gravel. The teenager had to come into our sight before he could get out of Jim’s. Yet he never did. And then he vanished, even from Jim’s view!

Perhaps there was a simple, natural explanation none of us thought of. At the very least, what happened to us that night on that lonely mountain ridge was a marvelous example of God’s perfect timing.

But ever since it’s left us with one persistent, unanswered question:

Do angels ride three-wheelers?

If that was an angel, he definitely helped us through a difficult situation. Biblically, angels do that. But he didn’t provide us, or any of the area’s needy, with food or clothing.

That’s our job.


Are food programs valuable?

Even in the wealthiest countries, disturbing numbers of people don’t have enough food. In the US, the Census Bureau says the number of Americans who go hungry every year has risen steadily since 2000. Many more middle class families now resort to food banks. Yet donations to such organizations have been shrinking.

Food banks provide vital aid. Yet many can only give families a few days’ worth of food a month.

Some stores help food banks by donating unsold groceries. Others throw away disheartening amounts of staples (like potatoes) because they fear lawsuits. Should laws be modified to better protect "Good Samaritans?"

Food stamps aid many families below the poverty line.

Rescue missions feed some of the neediest once or twice a day.

Most churches at least operate a small food pantry. Some other institutions do too. While I worked at Northwest University, the campus bookstore maintained a food pantry for needy students.

Some churches band together to feed the needy. During our travels we saw that effort centered at a Methodist church in Burley, Idaho, and at Catholic churches in Laramie, Wyoming and Desert Hot Springs, California. Other wonderful examples of multi-church efforts include Gateway Community Outreach in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and the Grace Resource Center in Lancaster, California.

Even the smallest food programs help. They deserve support and encouragement.

Our six homeless years taught us how important it is to provide enough food to meet people’s needs. Those needs vary. If, like us, you can’t get work and still can’t qualify for welfare or food stamps, how can you feed your family? Sometimes the answer is: you can’t. We only did thanks to a long chain of answered prayers, like those in Tehachapi.

We learned first-hand that many people earn too little to cover their essential expenses, yet too much to qualify for aid programs. That gap needs to be filled.


What does Joseph’s story tell us about how to budget for "help" programs?

While Joseph was in prison God gave Pharaoh two disturbing dreams. Pharaoh’s magicians couldn’t interpret them, but his wine taster told him Joseph could.

Joseph did. The dreams predicted that Egypt would experience seven prosperous years, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh to prepare for that famine. He said, "find the wisest man in Egypt and put him in charge of administering a nation-wide farm program." Thinking no one could be wiser than the man who’d interpreted his dreams, Pharaoh appointed Joseph.

Joseph divided Egypt into five districts and built warehouses to store the extra crops during the seven prosperous years. When the famine struck, Joseph began selling that surplus food. After the Egyptians’ money was gone, they paid with their livestock and then with their land. Finally they became Pharaoh’s serfs, paying him a 20% yearly tax. (Read the whole story: Gen. 41:1-49; 41:53-57; 47:13-26.)


It’s noteworthy that Joseph could save good-year surpluses. That wouldn’t be allowed in many places today.

When I was a city division head (as city librarian), each division had to spend all of its budget every year. No exceptions. The City Council believed that if we didn’t spend it, we hadn’t needed it, and we’d lose it the next year. But staff turnover and unfilled orders almost always meant we entered December with a surplus. And we’d scramble for valid ways to use all the funds in time!


Joseph reversed that rule. Today his budgeting policies could cause scandal. But his story teaches us that it is wise to set aside reserves in good times. It’s our policy, not his, that’s imperfect.

Joseph’s approach solves one of today’s nagging civic problems. During lean years the government must spend more money for jobs, unemployment, and welfare - but only has it during good years.

It’s like the old hit song about wealth: "If you got it, you don’t need it. If you need it, you don’t got it. Try to get it, shame on you! Funny, funny, funny what money can do!"


In the long run setting aside money during good years to use during lean ones provides more work, lower taxes, and more money when we need it. Done right, it’s a good idea, as Joseph’s administration showed.



"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late." – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

























































































































































































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