When Jesus walked the earth, he experienced hunger and thirst. God, dwelling among us, felt the push and pull of human need as we do. He also had a God’s-eye view on the experience of those around him and acted with compassion to meet need—spiritual and physical need—wherever he went.
Jesus did not diminish the need a hungry person has for a good meal. And when we read the gospels with the whole Bible in mind, we see that hunger has always mattered to God. It has always been his intent that all people experience fullness of life, and that includes bodily nourishment. As a heavenly Father who gives good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:10-11), God does not overlook our physical needs.
So as God’s people, and co-labourers with Christ in a needy world, what does the Bible teach us about feeding those who are hungry, as an extension of God’s justice?
‘The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.’
The first two chapters of Genesis include descriptions of God’s abundant provision for his creation, streams and rain to nourish the earth, and food to nourish Adam and Eve. God’s original design was one in which humans live physically satisfied by God’s good creation.
‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.’
Ultimately, we look forward to a future where God’s original design is restored in New Creation—when hunger and thirst are no longer part of the landscape of our broken world but where everyone’s needs are met in God’s heavenly kingdom.
‘You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him.’
This chapter tells part of the story of the Israelites in the desert and demonstrates God’s kind, forgiving provision. Despite their grumbling, God did not let Israel go hungry. Not for a single day. He provided bread and meat from heaven—feeding them from his hand.
‘If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.’
This verse is translated differently across translations of the Bible with some encouraging us to spend ourselves and extend our souls to the hungry, while others call us to give what we have, share our food and feed those who are hungry. God’s call is to do both! When we feed the hungry, we give of ourselves personally and then our lives shine in dark places. Our needs are also met ‘like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail’ (though that’s not the reason we give—it’s a byproduct) (Isaiah 58:11).
‘The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord!’
Opening with anguish from David who feels abandoned by God, Psalm 22 ends with declarations of God’s faithfulness, in the moment and into the future. There is hope for people in crisis, even those who experience natural disasters, that they will eat in God’s Kingdom, and be satisfied.
‘He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.’
The Psalmist is declaring God’s intent toward his children in this Psalm, particularly those on the margins—the oppressed, the prisoner, the blind and the hungry.
‘But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”’
The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 appears in all four gospels (Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6). In each of them human generosity and faith is part of the miracle: Jesus takes what’s offered to satisfy the needs of the hungry and multiplies it. God’s intent is for hungry people to be fed, and he calls his people to participate in providing the food. (That’s why this year’s Matching Grant is ensuring vulnerable families have enough to eat.)
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Here, Jesus links feeding the hungry to ministering to himself, I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. Caring for vulnerable, hungry people is not only following Jesus’ lead, it’s akin to caring for Jesus, which is what grounds our work at Baptist World Aid.
‘He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.’
Here, Mary sings, filled with gratitude for the role she is playing in the coming of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Jesus, the Messiah is coming, and, in his Kingdom, the hungry will be filled with goodness and those who keep their wealth for themselves will be empty handed in the end.
‘Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”’
While this verse is certainly speaking of spiritual hunger and thirst, it is also about physical bread. Jesus is speaking of a heavenly mystery stemming back to the miracle of God’s provision in the desert (Exodus 16:8). The physical hunger of people matters to Jesus, as it has always mattered to God. And it is God who always provides.
Acts 4:32, 34
‘Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them.’
The Book of Acts paints a picture of a community of faith sharing all that they have so that ‘there was not a needy person among them’—a community without poverty!
‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.‘
No one is exempt from the call to feed the hungry, God calls us to meet the needs of even those we might call ‘enemies’.
‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?‘
James uses this example as comparable with a faith without deeds—a dead faith. Faith in action sees physical need and attempts to meet it.