Sunday, February 7, 2010

Feeding the multitudes

by Stephen Crippen

Today I met with several members of St. Paul's for the second time to reflect on the issue of homelessness and the relationships we have (or do not have) with our homeless neighbors. It's a great group--lots of robust discussion, thoughtful insights, and even some good humor!

We reflected today on stories from the Gospels (or elsewhere in our faith tradition) that inspire us to reach out to the homeless. People mentioned Matthew 25--the chapter where Jesus says that when we feed the hungry, we're feeding Christ himself. Some of us think about the whole 'gestalt' of the Gospels--and how Jesus talks and behaves in the Gospels--and respond to that by reaching out to our homeless neighbors.

We then talked about the healing stories in the Gospels, stories where Jesus performs a four-dimensional healing: he heals the person's physical infirmity, but also the person's religious wound (diseased persons were considered ritually unclean and not allowed to participate in the liturgical life of their people), the person's social wound (diseased persons were considered socially unacceptable and were forced to live as outcasts), and the person's psychological wound (it's hard to feel good about yourself if you have to shout "I'm a leper!" when people approach you, so that they can avoid you and walk in the other direction).

Finally, the group patiently listened to me as I talked about the Gospel stories that inspire me personally to reach out to neighbors of mine who are hungry or homeless: Jesus fed the multitudes. This is recorded in all four Gospels. Using just a few loaves and fish, somehow Jesus provides a full meal for everyone, all the thousands of dusty, hungry people surrounding him, and with plenty left over. To quote my Lutheran heritage, "What does this mean?"

I think it means that life with Jesus is a life of abundance. Everyone has enough. Perhaps no one has too much--certainly, if I have too much but want to live a life with Jesus, I would give some of my food to my hungry friend. There is enough to go around. Our group talked about the outrage of homelessness and hunger. In a world of such vast abundance, how can people be hungry? In a country of such vast wealth, how can people not afford housing?

Our tradition demands that we wrestle with these questions. One way our group did that is by thinking about our own relationships with particular homeless (or near-homeless) Seattleites. Many of us support Real Change, a program that increases awareness about the issue of homelessness while helping people get back on their feet. Our group talked about how, when we support a Real Change vendor by purchasing a newspaper, we help him transform from a beggar into a merchant. This can be one way in which we--in our own place and time--follow the example of Jesus and restore not only physical health to our neighbor, but also social and psychological health.

We're going to keep asking these questions, and more questions after that. And we're also reflecting on the good work being done here at St. Paul's by our volunteers and staff in the office, who, more than anyone in the parish, are on the front lines in our interactions with our homeless neighbors.

Would you like to join us? We're meeting on first Sundays at 9:00 a.m., in the Gallery (the former library). Even if you can't make it to our meetings, I invite your comments and reflections to this post.

"Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted." --John 6:11

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