This morning my parents and I went and served food to the poor and homeless in downtown Mesa. It was a really neat experience. Although I should confess, I didn’t initially want to go and serve. It was a holiday and wanted to be selfish with it. I wanted to spend my morning my way doing what I wanted to do. Praise God for the grace that overruled my sinful heart.
Something about interacting with people so much worse off than yourself really provokes thought… I wondered what each person’s story was… why were they here? How long had it been since they last ate?
There were those who were sincerely grateful, accepting the cup of milk I handed them with a smile and replying “thank you.” They would meet your eye and say “God bless” or crack a joke or make some sweet comment that showed you just how excited they were to eat this morning. Some said thank you in a way that sounded like it was merely out of politeness. Others didn’t even bother, dropping their cup on the counter and refusing to make eye contact.
Some looked bitter and resentful, angry at what life had dealt them. They resented the fact that there were people better off than they were giving out free food. Yet, for all that resentment, their hunger pains drove them to accept it anyway.
Several came back for more. One man I observed came through the line 3 full times, cleaning his plate each time. I filled the cup of another man with milk at least 12 times.
For many, this was probably their only meal of the day. Or at least the only meal they were guaranteed of today.
I struggled with feelings of deep compassion mixed with guarded skepticism. How many of these people were truly poor and helpless? Hungry and homeless? How many just knew how to work the system and get a free meal? For many, their external appearance was a clear indication of the condition of their life. For others, I wasn’t so sure.
What really broke my heart were the kids. Despite the fact that some of them didn’t exactly look like they were starving, I was still sad as I realized that they didn’t choose this life – whatever it was. It wasn’t as if they were driven to accept free meals as a result of poor choices or as the consequences of poor life decisions. They were born into this life and unless there is some exceptional parenting or a life-changing intervention, they will probably die not much better off than the life they were born into…
I found myself frustrated with the welfare system that allowed people to be lazy and still get by ok… that has allowed the church to shirk its responsibility to look after the poor and homeless, orphans and widows…
And what about the fine line between “giving a man a fish” and “teaching him to fish”? Am I really helping anyone by just participating in a free handout?
Many of these questions rolled through my mind. The answers are not all easily obtained nor are the solutions.
But when I looked into the eyes of the men and women and children that walked through the food line, I smiled at them and for the moment I didn’t need to ask all the questions or have all the answers. This morning I contented myself with remembering Christ.
“I was hungry and you gave me food…”