Feeding the Poor
by Edwin Crozier
Where in the Bible did Jesus feed the poor?
My only goal is to provoke some intense thinking and searching.
I’ll just say at the outset that I know my point here is going to make me an outlier. I know I’m cutting against the grain and swimming upstream and any other metaphor that means I’m an odd duck. I also know that as I try to navigate between extremes, I will be falsely accused of things I’m not saying. However, as I often charge in where angels fear to tread, here goes.
Today, among most who claim to believe Jesus is the Christ (and many others), it is practically axiomatic that Jesus fed the poor. To most, it is a postulate that needs not to be proven upon which we will base all other arguments and logical progressions of belief and doctrine. In fact, I have found over the years when I ask for proof on this question, those who most believe it is there refuse to actually provide it, but get angry that it is being asked for. The underlying assumption is that Jesus’ mission, at least in part, was to feed the poor. However, did you notice how hard it was to answer this question?
Where did we find our answers? Did we find our answers by going to a passage in the gospels where the text says Jesus actually did what was claimed? Actually, no. There were basically two answers.
First, Jesus taught a wealthy man to feed the poor.
In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus taught a man who was throwing a banquet that he should invite folks who couldn’t pay him back. Since Jesus taught this man to feed the poor, surely Jesus Himself did so, right? Did you notice what Jesus teaches this man is not exactly “feed the poor.” He doesn’t give this man a mission of making sure all who are hungry are provided for. What he actually teaches is when you throw a banquet, include the poor, prioritize the poor even. But even what Jesus taught here was not to make a mission out of feeding the poor. All that being said, this is not actually Jesus feeding the poor. Jesus was no rich man throwing banquets and feasts. Surely, if He had been a rich man, when He held feasts and banquets, this is exactly what He would have done. But Jesus wasn’t even in the position to do it.
Except, of course, Jesus didn’t have to be rich to feed the poor, did He? He could take a few loaves and feed the masses. Which leads to our next attempt at answering.
Second, Jesus fed the 5000 and 4000.
However, what do we have to resort to in order to make this argument? Statistically speaking, surely some were poor. I imagine even now as you read this you are pounding your fists on your desk, “Come on, Edwin, those were jokes to demonstrate we all know how poor those people were.” No doubt, many of them were poor. After all, many of them had been blind, crippled, mute, deaf, lame until Jesus healed them. I wonder if the folks who brought these to be healed were just as poor? Notice in Luke 7:29-30 that tax collectors were among the crowds who followed Jesus. Weren’t they typically rich? There were also Pharisees and lawyers in those crowds. Whatever the financial state of the crowds, I can’t help but notice poverty wasn’t mentioned one time in any of the accounts.
The disciples seemed to believe the crowd could afford food. In Matthew 14:15, they encouraged Jesus to send the people to the nearby villages so they could buy food. What a great opportunity for Jesus to say, “Hey guys, you know these crowds are the tired and the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. They can’t afford food. You feed them.” What a great opportunity for Jesus to say, “For this reason my Father sent me into the world, to feed these people because they are poor.” However, He doesn’t say anything like that. And if the reason He fed them was their poverty. Why, in John 6 when they wanted to be fed again the next day, did He refuse? Had their station in life changed? Had they become wealthy? Had Jesus’s mission changed?
In the feeding of the 4000, Jesus specifically explains His reason (Matthew 15:32). It had nothing to do with how poor they were. It had to do with the fact that they had been in the desolate place with Him for three days. He feared they would faint on the way. Their hardship wasn’t because they were poor. Their hardship was because they had followed Jesus. So then, while I have no doubt Jesus fed some poor people on these two occasions, any poverty they were experiencing was incidental to the feeding. Jesus wasn’t “feeding the poor;” He was feeding followers.
And that is it.
Those are our basic answers. Neither of them states what we are looking for. Neither of them is an example of Jesus feeding the poor. Rather, at best they are logical conclusions we draw, piecing bits of evidence together to make a case. My question is this: If feeding the poor was so integral to what Jesus did, if it was His mission or even just part of His mission, why is it so hard to actually prove He did it? Why don’t we see it plainly stated even once? Why can’t we find it all over the place? Why, on the two occasions when He did miraculously feed people, don’t we see that mission highlighted?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that Christians should ignore the poor around them. Christians should do good to all as they have opportunity especially to the household of faith. Christians should be devoted to good work and to help in cases of urgent need. My point is simply this. Please don’t recreate Jesus in the image you want to make your case. Don’t twist what actually happened or the purposes for which it happened. There is, to my knowledge, absolutely no evidence that Jesus went about feeding the poor. Unless, of course, we take one person's hilarious point that Jesus was Himself poor and fed Himself.
The Mission of Jesus
And this gets me to the reason I think this is important. Jesus did have a mission. He had a mission that is stated. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). On a couple of occasions, Jesus refers to Isaiah 61:1-2 to claim His mission was to proclaim good news to the poor (see Luke 4:18-19; 7:22). What was that good news? Was that good news that He would be feeding them? Was that good news that He was going to redistribute the wealth more justly and fairly? Was that good news that in this life they would become rich? No, the good news was that He would be saving them.
Will Christians feed poor people as they have an opportunity? Of course. Though, they won’t comment about it on Facebook (at least not if they are being faithful to the Lord Jesus). Will Christians help the less blessed as they have an opportunity? Certainly. Though they won’t Tweet about it. But that is not the mission. The mission is spreading the good news. The mission is saving souls from sin and the wrath of God. That was Jesus’ mission. That was the mission that was stated. That is a verse I can actually find. I don’t have to draw logical conclusions from potential points made. I don’t have to piece together bits of evidence that might suggest this mission. I can actually go to a passage that says this was the mission. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Though the world and every false religion out there would prefer we alter and adjust it, let’s make sure to keep the mission the mission.