By David Miner
“Dropped again” I mutter in anger. My cell phone carrier’s system has dropped my call once again. I pay them a substantial amount of money each month and I expect that they will provide a better system.
Jesus too paid attention to the systems of his day. “Stand up!” he said to the man with the withered hand in the story recorded in Mark 3. A withered hand was a serious detriment for a man of that time, guaranteeing a life of poverty, but it was the Sabbath and the law forbade healing on the Sabbath. Jesus could have told the man to meet him the next day, but he didn’t. Mark reports that Jesus looked around at the crowd in anger. He healed the man in the synagogue, standing up right in the middle of the political and religious leaders of his day. He knew the law needed changing.
Jesus continued the tradition of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Amos who spoke truth to the powerful of their day. In Isaiah 10 the prophet said: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, To those who issue oppressive decrees, To deprive the poor of their rights”.
There’s an apocryphal story about a person encountering a baby floating down a river. Naturally the good-hearted person grabs the baby out of the swirling river and cares for them. Then another baby comes down the river, and another and another. Finally, someone is dispatched up the river to find out how the babies came to be in the river in the first place.
This is our challenge too, to not only help individuals in need but also to change the systems. Systems that keep a person from healing, or even more importantly systems that contribute to their need in the first place. Some of these systems arose inadvertently and some were sinfully crafted to fleece the vulnerable and less fortunate, but regardless they need fixing. It’s hard work and slow, but it can yield improvements that are deep, wide, just and sustainable.
There are lots of systems that need improvement. My particular focus is to end hunger. I work with churches, food pantries, food banks, and food rescue non-profits. I also work with Bread for the World to change federal policy and programs so that our government plays its part.
I was volunteer executive director for the Interfaith Hunger Initiative. IHI was led by a wonderful group of people of diverse faith traditions, Christian pastors, Jewish Rabbis, a Pakistani Muslim, a Tibetan Buddhist in his long robes and more. We did events and raised money. Over a six-year period we raised $750,000 and were providing a daily school lunch for 3,000 AIDS orphans in Kenya.
Then came devastating news, not from Kenya but from DC. While we were doing all this work there was one vote in Congress – a single act of Congress – that took $800 million out of an international school lunch program. We helped 3 thousand kids, but lunch was lost for 3 million kids! Ouch!
When people of faith work together to improve the systems, we can impact 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of lives. We can even end hunger altogether.