I Was Hungry

I was hungry and you gave me food.

There are a billion undernourished people in the world. People who may not know whether they will eat today, people who suffer pain and disease because they are starving.  People who cannot care for themselves and their families because they do not have strength or health.

We invite you to give generously to organizations that bring relief to the hungry.

Feeding 7 billion people is not a small task, and it can’t possibly be done simply by donations of money to worthy charities. The money pays people who grow, ship and distribute the food. Without those workers no one eats.  The primary way that hungry people get food is through a healthy food industry and an economy that allows people to be a part of the process.

There was a time when the large majority of the people in the world provided food for themselves and their families by farming and hunting.  In today’s urbanized world, only 20% of people are involved in agriculture, and that number is much smaller in developed nations with mechanized farming practices. Yet in those developed nations the path food follows from  field to table is long and involves efforts of many more than the farmer.  Trucks, trains and ships bring food to processing plants and wholesalers.  Food is butchered, cleaned, measured, cut up, mixed, cooked, packaged, labeled, stored, and shipped again. Grocery stores bring food to convenient places for us to buy, and then someone cooks, serves, and cleans up, either at home or in a restaurant.  Bringing food to the table involves all kinds of people: the construction workers who build the stores, the people who sell gasoline to fuel the trucks, the accountants who keep the books, the engineers who design the machines, the printers who print ads and coupons, the academic researchers who test and improve the quality of the crops and processed foods, the dishwashers in the restaurant and many more.

Food and Work

Feeding the hungry involves many more people and many more tasks than just the person who hands out the food. Our world produces more than enough food to feed everyone, but getting the food to the people who are hungry is challenging. Donations of food may be hijacked by warlords and governments who turn it towards profit or political power. Massive food donations from wealthy countries can undermine local farmers, weakening the local economy and increasing dependence.

Conventional wisdom says that if you give someone a fish you feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime (Anne Ritchie). For starving people providing food donations may help in the short term, but in the long run it is more effective to make sure that people can work and build their independence so that they can feed themselves.

There is a close connection between work and food.  Energy comes into the body as food and leaves as work.  We need food so the body can function. In a sense the hunger we feel is a result of the body’s need to be active.  So food turns into work through the body’s functioning.

There is another side of the cycle as well: we must work in order to eat. You may have seen a hungry jobless person holding a sign saying, “Will work for food.”  For that man the connection between work and food is quite obvious, yet most of us must find employment in order to put food on our table.  Whether the work is the proverbial catching a fish, or the farmer’s raising crops and animals, or any other work or trade that pays us the money to buy food, we must work to eat.  

This has been true throughout history. In the story of the Garden of Eden the Lord put Man in the garden to tend it and keep it, and then eat its fruit.  Later when they were expelled from the Garden the work became harder: the Lord said, “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it

All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” (Genesis 3:17-19)

Now it is not a curse that we must work in order to eat.  It is a curse when our hard work produces thorns and thistles, and it is a curse when we work to grow food and then enemies take it and eat it, as Moses said,

“You shall plant a vineyard, but shall not gather its grapes. Your ox shall be slaughtered before your eyes, but you shall not eat of it; … A nation whom you have not known shall eat the fruit of your land and the produce of your labor, and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually. …You shall carry much seed out to the field but gather little in, for the locust shall consume it. You shall plant vineyards and tend them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes; for the worms shall eat them.” (Deuteronomy 28:30-31, 33, 38-39)

Working unproductively is a curse, but when we work to plow and plant, and then we gather a good crop, then both the work and the produce become blessings. “The Lord your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good.” (Deuteronomy 30:9).  “When you eat the labor of your hands, You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.” (Psalm 128:2)

Spiritual Food

One of the connections between work and food is that work like food can be very satisfying. When we work very hard at something we find pleasure in knowing that we have made a difference, or that we have accomplished something, or that the world is a little better for what you have done. When we look at our work and we see that it is something good, that it has been intelligently done, or that it can bring a smile to someone’s face, then we feel a deep sense of satisfaction. The satisfaction that comes from a full belly is physical. The satisfaction that comes from doing something well belongs to the mind and spirit, and affects us more deeply.

Isaiah wrote,  “You who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isaiah 55:1-2).

Isaiah was saying here that food for the body is not as satisfying as for the soul.

Jesus also spoke of a deeper kind of food. Once when he was on a journey and had nothing to eat, his disciples went to a nearby village to get some food. When they returned they urged him to eat, but he said to them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” The disciples wondered whether someone else had brought him some food while they had been gone, but he said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” (John 6:31-34).

In another place Moses wrote a phrase that Jesus quoted, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4). We hardly need to mention that “living by the Word of God” means much more than simply hearing it and understanding it. The Lord compared His Word to the seed that a sower sows, and when the seed falls in good ground it produces a crop.  Someone who receives seed on the good ground is one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces (Matthew 13:23). “Living by the Word of God” means being fruitful and productive with it.

Teachings for the New Church reveal a similar connection between food and work. They tell us,

“Food” means heavenly goodness, because the angels’ food is nothing but the good intentions of love and of kindness, which not only make them live, but also refresh them. It is especially these good intentions in act, or the practice of them, that serve for the angels’ renewal, because these are their desires, and we know that when the desires are realized in act, they give renewal and life.  These things nourish a person’s spirit, while material food nourishes his body. Secrets of Heaven 5147:3

In the inner sense “food” properly means the things that nourish our soul, that is, that nourish us after death, for we then live as a soul or spirit, and no longer need material food, but spiritual food, which is everything that is useful, and everything that leads to usefulness. Secrets of Heaven 5293

Latent in the affection of every angel’s will is a certain inner tendency which draws the mind to accomplish something. By accomplishment the mind finds peace and satisfaction. This satisfaction and peace produce a state of mind receptive of a love of useful service from the Lord. From the reception of this love comes heavenly happiness, which is the life in the joys just referred to. Heavenly food in its essence is nothing else than love, wisdom and useful service combined, that is, useful service accomplished through wisdom out of love. Consequently in heaven everyone is given food for the body in accordance with the useful service he performs – magnificent food in the case of those engaged in outstanding service, modest food but of excellent flavor and taste in the case of those in an intermediate degree of useful service, and humble food in the case of those in humble service, while the lazy receive none. Married Love 6.6

Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do well. With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with less fatigue. The latter performs a little imperfectly, looks at it in disgust, turns from it, and imagines himself exceedingly tired. The little he has done, comes to nothing, for want of finishing” (September 30, 1859, Address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society).

Spiritual Hunger

Just as there is a deeper level of food, there is a deeper level of hunger. On a physical level we have a desire to eat. On a deeper level you have a desire to accomplish something, to contribute, to make a real difference.

Part of the challenge of loving their neighbor is to understand what people really desire. A person who is physically hungry desires food, but a person who has a hunger on a deeper level desires opportunities to accomplish good things.

The question is, how do we help people experience the satisfaction of doing meaningful work? One of the ways we can do this is by understanding our passions. I like the word “passion” because it means both a strong desire and an experience of suffering, and it includes both physical and spiritual levels. A person who is hungry has a strong desire for, and suffers from the lack of it. A person who is passionate about someone or something also has a strong desire and suffers from the lack of it.  

Just as hunger may drive us to work for the food for our bodies, a genuine passion can drive us to accomplish things that have more significant and lasting value. When our desire for something good is strong it gives us energy and purpose. It drives us to surmount every obstacle and to hang on through every conflict and difficulty. This is the kind of hunger that Jesus was talking about when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:2). It is a blessing when you have a passion for what is good and right, for following that passion will lead us to a fulfilling and satisfying life.

When we understand this the kind of hunger, we can see that feeding the hungry is more than just giving them food. It is also nurturing their passion for what is good and right. It is giving them opportunities to do, to build, to create and accomplish. It is helping them become a force for good in the world.

Helping People Find Work

There are lots of ways that we can do this. A recent college graduate was looking for work and had trouble finding a job. A friend said to him, “Why don’t you apply to work at my company? They could use someone like you.” So he applied, and they hired him.

Some of us are so fortunate that we are able to hire people who are looking for work. Those who are able to employ others do good to their employees not only by paying them so that they can eat, but more importantly by giving them the opportunity to pull their own weight and experience the satisfaction of a job well done. The teachings for the New Church tell us that the primary way that we can love other people is by doing the work of our employment or occupation faithfully, sincerely and justly. So hiring someone may be helping them become the kind of person they are created to become, that is, someone who loves and serves their neighbor.

But it is not just the employers who make work possible. Everyone who does their job faithfully and honestly is helping other people work and live. Accountants make it possible for managers to buy, sell and hire. Salespeople make it possible for factory workers to stay employed. Doctors and nurses help people stay healthy so that they can work. By working faithfully and honestly we support and build up the whole community, and a thriving community provides all the resources of its members need to live.

Our church congregations work the same way. Everyone who find some way to serve the congregation by doing some task honestly and faithfully will help the whole community to thrive. Just as our work in the community helps others grow and live, our work in a church congregation helps others in their spiritual life. In my experience, the people who finds the most satisfaction in their church life are the ones who are most involved in trying to help others with their spiritual life. So if we want to help someone find satisfaction and nurturing from the church, one of the best ways is to invite them to volunteer, to let them know that they are truly needed, to ask them to be on our team and work side-by-side with us.

There are many smaller ways in which we can help someone feel the satisfaction of a job well done. A mom who asks her child to help set the table is feeding the child’s self-esteem and stomach at the same time. We can also nurture people with  a simple question such as, “Can you help me help someone?”

Working from Love

One of the keys to helping people grow in their ability to be useful is to find out what they are passionate about. If we’re going to feed the hungry, we must understand what they are really hungry for. If we pay attention to a person’s desires, interests and experience and passions we may help them find the kind of tasks that they can do well and that give them the most joy.

The goal in being useful is not simply to do a task slavishly, but to be of use with affection and delight, motivated by a love for others. When we can find our own passion for usefulness and can do artwork from genuine love, we are in a better position to help someone else discover their passion and experience the joy of usefulness. As Howard Thurman said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Yet understanding the needs of others can bring both compassion and passion for serving. Once Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32). He then fed 4000 men plus women and children with just seven loaves of bread and two fish.  It was His compassion that led Him to feed them.  

In the next life everyone receives food according to the kind of work that they do. Everyone works, and everyone eats. It’s one of the differences between heaven and hell is that people in heaven work freely because they love to serve others. They enjoy their work. In hell on the other hand, people are driven to work by their hunger. They hate serving, doing as little as they can and to doing it grudgingly.

One of the things that makes heaven heaven is the fact that angels have a passion for doing whatever is needed.  As Robert Frost said, “But yield who will to their separation, / My object in living is to unite / My avocation and my vocation / As my two eyes make one in sight. / Only where love and need are one, / And the work is play for mortal stakes, / Is the deed ever really done / For Heaven and the future’s sakes.”   This ability to bring together love, work and joy comes from the Lord, who gives them work that they can do with love, and gives them a love for doing the work, always regarding the freedom of each angel.

The Lord Feeds Us

After the Lord fed a crowd of 5000 men plus women and children with just five loaves and two fish, he remarked that they had been satisfied by eating the bread, yet he offered another kind of bread.

“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life… I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger” (John 6:27, 35).

Physical food gives us chemical energy to live and to work, yet life is much more than a chemical reaction. What really makes our body live, move, work, breathe, sing and dance are all the thoughts and feelings that flow into us from the Lord through the spiritual world. Just as it is our desires, intentions and thoughts that cause our body to move, and his life flowing in from the Lord through our souls that moves all our thoughts and feelings.

The Lord is with every person, giving life, freedom and the ability to act as we choose. When we choose to do what is right and good and truly helpful to other people and to society as a whole, then the work that we do is actually done from the Lord, working within us and through us. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).  When we act as if we were working on our own, yet acknowledge that it is the Lord working in us and through us then we are truly cooperating with the Lord. We are fed by the inflowing love and opportunity to pass it on to others.  This kind of food gives us a connection and partnership with Him, and causes us to live forever.  When we are in this kind of partnership with the Lord and we invite people not only to eat with us, but to partner with us and work with us, we are offering a deeper kind of food, the food that belongs to Lord Himself — “to do the will of the Father and finish His work.”