Scripture Reading: Luke 3:7-18
And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’ –Luke 3:10-14
John the Baptist seems to be dealing with two types of help. The first is meeting immediate needs no matter what. If we have more than is necessary, we need to share extra coats and food with those who have none. The second expresses an ethical level of doing business. We are to treat people fairly by not overcharging or extorting money falsely for our own gain rather than being satisfied with the wages we make. Tax collectors collected whatever they could apparently if they gave Rome what Rome required.
Schools learned some time ago that students who were hungry could not learn. The school lunch program was expanded to include breakfast for that very reason. I heard on the news recently that our school system is offering dinner after school because for many of our students the school is the only sure place they will be fed. Volunteers from my church fill backpacks with food at a local elementary school each Friday to send home with some children who likely have no dependable source of food at home.
Areas of high poverty have limited healthy food and make a profit selling unhealthy food.
Food deserts are defined as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.
This has become a big problem because while food deserts are often short on whole food providers, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, instead, they are heavy on local quickie marts that provide a wealth of processed, sugar, and fat laden foods that are known contributors to our nation’s obesity epidemic.*
John was most likely identifying the first century equivalent of food deserts among the people to whom he preached. His advice remains pertinent to us today as we live in a world where the rich get richer as poverty increases.
There are many issues that must be addressed between meeting basic needs and ethical business practices like offering quality public education to all and restorative criminal justice. John describes a good start toward a more equitable society that reflects God’s love for all God’s children.
Prayer: Lord, forgive us when we close our eyes to the hungry and ignore the business inequities of poverty. Amen.