Last week I saw the face of hunger -- and it was a face that disturbed me greatly. For a few days, I had observed a rusty old shopping cart piled high with garbage bags and old blue tarps, seemingly abandoned under a viaduct near my home. Then I noticed its owner, sleeping close-by on the sidewalk; he was wearing a long-sleeved flannel checked shirt, dirty tan pants and blue wool knitted hat. As temperatures soared into the high 90's, I decided to drop off some bottles of water, along with a bag of groceries that would not require refrigeration-- some rolls, cans of chicken that could be opened without a can opener, peanut butter, granola bars..... Hoping that my neighbor wasn't allergic to nuts, I drove to the viaduct, put on the hazard lights and went over to the cart that was resting against the curb, in its usual place. The owner was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed, I was about to head back to my car when I caught sight of him -- he was sprawled across the stairs leading down to the subway, blocking the path of any commuters.
"Excuse me," I said, trying not to startle him, placing the bottles and grocery bag on the sidewalk.
He sat up, a shock of red hair spilling out of the blue wool cap, a scruffy red beard framing his face.
"I thought you might need some water -- and there's --"
Before I could finish my sentence, he grabbed the bag, almost ripping it apart and began rummaging through its contents. In that moment I realized that he was so crazed with hunger that he would be incapable of making himself a sandwich and probably wouldn't be patient enough to open the cans of chicken or even the peanut butter; in that moment, I saw how deprivation and poverty can strip us of our humanity and make us incapable of connecting with others. I returned to my car-- a "do-gooder" who had failed miserably to assess the situation and who was naive enough to imagine that a starving person would use paper plates, cutlery or the other useless items I had placed in the grocery bag....
Here in the US, we pride ourselves on being one of the richest countries in the world, yet hordes of citizens roam the streets, or pitch their tents along express-ways, or sit with their begging cups in high-end locations. Disabled vets, the mentally ill, runaways, drug addicts, families without housing, people who have lost their jobs --these are the hungry people who sleep on our streets and rummage through our garbage cans. For some, they are a "public nuisance"; for Christians, they are the face of the rejected Christ.
Then he told them a parable.
“There was a rich man whose land produced an abundant harvest. ‘What shall I do? he asked himself, 'for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
Then he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I will tear down my barns, build larger ones, and store all my grain and other goods there. I shall tell myself, “Now you have many good things stored up for many years, so rest, eat, drink, be merry!'
But God, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; as for all the things you have hoarded, to whom will they belong?’
So will it be for those who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
To call someone a "fool," biblically-speaking, is tantamount to accusing that person of turning away from God and from God's Law. Psalm 14, for example, begins with the following verse:
Fools tell themselves,
"There is no God."
Their actions are corrupt,
none of them does good.
The rich man in Jesus' parable is such a fool. In the first place, he acts as though he himself is Lord of the Harvest rather than God. There is no expression of gratitude for the bounty he has received; instead, he behaves as though he is entitled to the good things of this world. Secondly, he has no sense of responsibility towards his less fortunate neighbors; instead of sharing the harvest, he wants to hoard it, even going as far as to tear down his small barns to build larger ones where he can store all the grain. And, thirdly, instead of living a God-centered life, all he wants to do is indulge his own appetites, living as comfortably as possible. Such fools imagine that "they are only answerable to themselves. Instead of acknowledging God's Presence in their lives, they invest ultimate authority in themselves alone, pursuing that which is expedient rather than that which is ethical" (Stewart,
And what about us? Do we express gratitude to God or do we feel entitled to the blessings we have received? Do we hoard or do we share? Do we settle for a life of feasting and feeling good, or do we focus on what matters to God?