Giving Bread… but which kind?

Free Bread

Mark 2 continues to “bother” me.  I talked in another post about my struggle for what this means for us and our relationships.  But lately another question has been coming at me from this Scripture.

The question for those who serve others and care for the poor has long been: is it more important for me to meet their physical needs or their spiritual needs?  This has been fleshed out in many different ways.  One group may go and visit with the homeless and give them tracts that tell them about Jesus, or event spend their time talking to them about knowing Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.  Another group may go out to the same group of homeless men and spend no time talking about Jesus but rather spend their time giving them sandwiches and asking them about their health.  

This story in Mark brings to light this question again for me.  What is it that the men were trying to help their friend with??  Was it his spiritual life or his physical?  Or both?  In most people’s opinions their original reason for bringing Him to Jesus was so that He could be physically healed.  But did they also believe that more might happen for this man in the presence of Jesus?  What is my role as a friend of those in need?  To bring them to Jesus for their physical healing and trust that more may come?  Is that my only task?  Or perhaps it is in the caring for people’s physical needs that the way is prepared for other conversations about Christ? 

Part of my thoughts around this issue return back to a conversation several of us had around the book, “Christianity Rediscovered” by Vincent Donovan.  You can read those thoughts here.  Donovan as a missionary to the Masai people in Africa realized that for all the social action the church had taken (putting in schools, hospitals, etc.), while they certainly appreciated and enjoyed the services, the Masai were no closer to being followers of Christ than they had been before.  So he took out to rediscover what it means to share with others the gospel of Christ.  

What then is our role?  What is the priority for us?  Where is God at work? 

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10 Responses to Giving Bread… but which kind?

  1. Josh says:

    Brian…you always ask good questions.

    What do you think?

    I will speak personally. Tract-giving scares me. (But then, there is a crazy sold out follower of Christ at my church who began his spiritual journey as a result of taking a tract home and wrestling with God there.) In the past, I have attempted to avoid this extreme…and in so doing I have worked so hard that most of the time I avoid spiritual conversations with those homeless/needy/poor folks that I have encountered. This is probably because of some irrational fear…

    Your final question has at its core an assumption that really drives the entire issue. Asking “where is God at work” assumes that God IS at work. This assumption…let’s call it a belief…is essential as we encounter all the people we meet. God is at work here. Now my role is simply to pay attention to him…in all things. He is at work in the life of the person in front of me, and he is at work in my own life. Mystics would ask…”how do we allow the Christ in me to minister to the Christ in you?”

    What is our role? Our role is to be people with ears to hear and eyes to see.

    What is our priority? To see God at work and respond accordingly.

    Are these vague responses? Yes.

  2. Kipper says:

    A former missionary and general superintendent once remarked that hungry people cannot hear the Gospel.

    By the same token a less-than-significant minister once commented that deaf people cannot hear the Gospel either, thus making the effort of many Christians to shout it in their ears futile and stupid. The language of the world is becoming more and more sign language. We respond to symbols, signs, etc. So perhaps the best approach to spreading some truth and grace in the world is to stop shouting it and start showing it instead.

    It’s really not that complicated.

  3. James says:

    “…is it more important for me to meet their physical needs or their spiritual needs?”

    How are meeting physical needs NOT spiritual? I think that our mistake is when we make a distinction between the two. We serve an incarnational God in Jesus Christ where the spiritual was made physical; the Word was made flesh. God is revealed to us in the humanity of Christ and so I do not know how we can be spiritual then without embracing humanity.

    Peace,

    James

  4. ragingbhull says:

    Kipper, I appreciate your push towards showing love. Perhaps that’s all that matters for the friends… they were showing love. They were DOING something to help. God help us to HELP more than talk about helping.

  5. ragingbhull says:

    James I appreciate your comment and don’t disagree. Too often we are eager to separate things out.

    But at what point is it our role (ever?) to talk about Jesus and following God in His Way?? Clearly in this story these are friends. Who better to show and tell? A history of mission work around the world tells us that simply offering more clinics and schools does NOT = transformation in Christ.

  6. Kipper says:

    Your comment touches upon one of my biggest pet peeves, Brian, and sums it up pretty well. As a thinker/talker myself I can appreciate the time we spend on such theological brainy-isms. But all talk and no action, at least in my book, is worthless. Okay, technically James and even Paul condemn it too. But the point is that too many congregations – and perhaps too many churches or even the Church – are content to talk about the problems around them.

    “Lord, help the hungry/the poor/the uneducated/the depressed and rejected. Heal the environment, befriend the wicked, etc.” Or they attend conferences on the subject which offer little or no ideas on solving the issue (making them a lot like politicians), or interestingly complicating such simple issues as feeding hungry people. The Church of the Nazarene is notorious for this kind of thing. “Motion tabled until a committee could be formed to research the issue further. Report to be submitted to board of General Superintendents and submitted for further review at the next general assembly.” And all the while the starving starve, the sick die, and the disenfranchised grow more and more disillusioned with the Church, the Christian Faith, and the idea that there is a God that really gives a damn what happens to them.

    Here endeth the peeve…for the moment.

  7. Kipper says:

    One last thought on this subject since it’s doubtful anyone will read past the newest posting.

    Christians have always allowed the grace of God to be represented by more concrete items. The most potent is the idea of communion in which we literally eat a piece of bread and drink the cup, realizing fully as our stomachs are filled that the grace of God fills more than our bellies. Now this is perhaps lost in our modern idea of nibbling a stale wafer and slurping a ridiculously small shot of divine blood; but the concept should be the same.

    Perhaps our Roman Catholic brothers/sisters have something on us in their doctrine of transubstantiation. Maybe our action of feeding the poor and hungry does or at least should become the very act of God reaching out to humanity all over again. Maybe the bread we offer (or the handshake, hug, greeting, smile, etc.) should and does become for them the physical embodiment of divine grace.

    Whatever the case, I think it important to realize that the very things that ought to be sacramental in our Christian lives are our lives, so that we are the ones transformed for others, filling their bellies and perhaps introducing a different meaning for that filling in the process.

  8. Josh says:

    Kipper,
    I read past the newest post and I think you are right when you say the Catholic folks are on to something with the idea of transubstatiation, especially in regards to serving others. The Christ in me is reaching out to the Christ in you and the Christ in the man with no food.

  9. Kipper says:

    “…many Christians assume it’s the church’s job to take care of people’s spiritual needs and the government’s job to take care of people’s physical needs. We preach the gospel while government is supposed to care for the poor, the homeless, the oppressed, the disabled, or the sick…As William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) saw so clearly a century and a half ago, it’s the church’s job to minister to people, not just their spiritual needs. Indeed, there’s no biblical warrant for separating a person’s physical needs from their spiritual ones. When a person is without food, without shelter, and without hope, this is a physical and spiritual issue. Hence…the church is to take responsibility to do all it can to care for people in every possible way.”

    -Gregory A. Boyd
    “The Myth of a Christian Nation”

  10. ragingbhull says:

    Kipper, I’m loving your quote here,
    “I think it important to realize that the very things that ought to be sacramental in our Christian lives are our lives, so that we are the ones transformed for others…”

    Quite powerful. Imagine that. Letting God work in me and then through me, submitting to Him. It’s truly a wonderful concept.

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