September 6, 2011

Joining with Neighbor

                Exodus 12 lays out the protocol for the observance of Passover, that all defining event for the people of the covenant.  Indeed, Passover continues to shape the identity of Jews and Christians as we seek to realize God’s liberating work in the world.  “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance” (Exodus 12:14).  Christians hear echoes of this in the early Christian liturgy which identifies Christ as the Passover lamb, the true sacrifice (1 Corinthians 5:7).

                Within the precise instructions for the preparation of the lamb, we find these words: “If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one…” (v. 4).  This frank acknowledgement of the unequal distribution of resources that neighbors are to correct beckons our reflection in a time of growing disparities.  Daily we read and hear of the world food crisis.  Emaciated parents and children make their slow way across the Horn of Africa in search of feeding stations.  Drought, conflict, and rising food prices have put the lives of millions of people at risk.  According to the State Department, more people than the combined populations of New York City and Houston need urgent assistance.

                The Bible constantly reminds us that all living creatures—people and animals—look to God “to give them their food in due season.”  The stories of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:9-36) and the feeding of 5000 (plus women and children) during the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 14:13-21) recount God’s generous provision.  What then should we say about the current food crisis in Africa?  Is the providing God disinterested in the well-being of these, also counted among God’s children?

                Another strain of biblical teaching stresses that hunger is not just God’s problem; it is ours.  If a brother or sister is hungry, we are to be God’s means of provision.  There is enough food in the world—it is just not available where most needed.  A recent statistic notes that Americans throw away 27% of our food, a startling fact given the gnawing reality many face.

                John Wesley practiced fasting for the sake of health and discipline. Prayer and fasting was a regular aspect of discipleship in the days of the apostolic church, and he wanted to emulate that practice.  It also prompted him toward compassion for the hungry.  I want to suggest that many of us return to this practice so that we might join with our neighbors by freeing up funds, thereby providing food as an embodiment of God’s care for all.

                                Molly T. Marshall

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