Written by Jessie Palatucci
I’m willing to wager that the majority of Christian believers are intimately familiar with, or at least have heard before, the New Testament parable that records Jesus feeding a few thousand people with just two fish and five loaves of bread. It is one of the few New Testament stories that is recorded in all four of the canonical Gospels. While I have heard many preachers use this parable to try and reveal some sort of deep, spiritual truth, I have always been perplexed by how often I have observed people of faith overlook the utter simplicity of this particular story: Jesus fed people who were hungry.
Sure, I will admit that it is kind of amazing that Jesus was able to feed so many with such a small amount of food. And while my intention is not to mitigate such a remarkable accomplishment, the point that I find most valuable in this parable is the fact that Jesus recognized the importance of satisfying the very fundamental need of every human being to eat. Moreover, he adamantly asserted to some of his closest disciples that when they fed the “least of these” – the forgotten, left behind, lost, and devalued persons pushed to the margins of society – they were actually feeding Jesus himself.
Jesus’ teaching on this simple concept has profoundly informed my understanding of my social responsibility as a person of faith to the larger human community. While I could not have foreseen the current circumstances of my life, I should not have been surprised to find myself working at a non-profit, social service agency that serves persons experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia. Did you know that there are more than 6,500 individuals experiencing homelessness, struggling to survive in the nation’s capital? A deeply troubling reality, wouldn’t you agree?
I see hundreds of these men and women every day. Some are very young, while others are much older. Some are healthy, others not so much. All of them come to find refuge from an outside world that so easily misunderstands, demeans, and largely disregards them.
They come to talk to someone who will listen to their story and help them find a way out of homelessness. And yes, they come to get a healthy and homemade meal. Providing nutritious food is an important part of our work. Our clients, whom we call guests (who if it were not for social service agencies in the community could go hungry on any given day), first come to us for our great, wholesome meals. But it is through our meals that we develop relationships with these individuals so we can help them beyond simply meeting their basic hunger needs to help them obtain a place of their own.
I find my work deeply fulfilling, and it is primarily informed and inspired by my faith tradition. After all, didn’t Jesus do something similar?
Michael R. Fisher Jr. is a member of Covenant Baptist UCC. A graduate of the Howard University School of Divinity, he is currently undergoing the ordination process in the Central Atlantic Conference. He serves as the Director of Advocacy at Miriam’s Kitchen, in Washington, DC.