In the New Testament, Jesus and His disciples were often thought to be crazy. Bloody crosses and empty tombs and Jew/Gentile unity — all of these things sounded insane to the surrounding world.
Not only that, but these Christians were forever concerning themselves not with the powerful and the influential but rather with orphans, with widows, serving the vulnerable and needy, feeding the hungry. These Christians always seemed to be identifying with the least “useful” people in society — those who had no influence or wealth, those who could offer nothing in return. It all seemed so strange, so counter-intuitive.
And that’s precisely the point.
The Gospel everywhere upends the world’s expectations. After all, who would have thought that the ruler of the universe would be born in a feeding trough to a peasant girl suspected of infidelity? Who would have thought that tax collectors and persecutors and day laborers would be the pillars upon which the church would be built?
The power of the Gospel is often seen the most clearly when it is seen in all its strangeness. The message of the Gospel explains why we care for those in need: precisely because we believe Jesus’ teaching that “the last shall be first” (Matthew 20:16) and that the kind of other-directed servant leadership our Lord demonstrated is the same kind we ourselves are to model.
This is one of the reasons why the church has, and must, concern itself with feeding the hungry. Hungry people — and there are over 1 billion men, women and children suffering from hunger around the world — are not just issues; they are people in need of the grace and love of Christ. They bear the image of God and need the message and hope of the Gospel.
So hunger must not be an abstract, faceless concept for those of us in Christ. But how should we go about thinking about the call for the church to care for those in need in the context of our mission?
We should begin by redefining our “neighbor” to include more than the families next door and the people down the street. We’re not the first ones who need a change of heart on this issue. Think about Jesus’ answer to the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That’s a question we hear repeatedly in the Scriptures. One would expect Jesus to respond as Paul and Silas did — believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Instead, Jesus asked about the man’s understanding of the Law, and the man replied: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus affirmed his response, then pressed toward the man’s next question: “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer was skillfully attempting to “justify himself” (Luke 10:29) but Jesus did what He always does — He exposes idolatry and points out one’s obstacles to following Christ. For this man it was his rejection of his neighbor.
In this same passage of Scripture, we see something else. Often, when responding to the vulnerable, our greatest obstacle isn’t the question of knowing what to do. Our greatest obstacle is fear. The Samaritan in Jesus’ parable has every reason to be afraid on the road to Jericho. The presence of a beaten man tells him there are robbers around, potentially hiding in the caves around him. Fear, though, is cast out by love; love is not cast out by fear.
The Samaritan has no reason to claim accountability for this terrorized neighbor. He does so because he treats him, a stranger, as though he were kin. The lawyer questioning Jesus rightly sees this as showing mercy (Luke 10:37). And Jesus says simply, “Go and do likewise.” To be faithful to our Lord, we must show mercy and grace to our neighbor.
Our response to those in need must not be simply, “Be warmed and filled” (James 2:16). We must love our neighbors — in every tribe, nation and hemisphere. Let’s embrace the strangeness to which our Lord calls us. Let’s be a people who care for those in need, who have compassion and love for our neighbors as ourselves.
The world may think this strange. But this strangeness will also be perceived by those to whom we minister, who may in turn come to receive an incredible Gospel.
— Russell D. Moore
Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.