First Corporal Work of Mercy: Feed the Hungry

Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642), "The Seven Works of Mercy"
Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642), "The Seven Works of Mercy" (photo: Register Files)

After finishing up the spiritual works of mercy in my previous series, let us start to examine the seven corporal works of mercy. These works of mercy focus on serving the visible needs of our neighbor and should not be neglected. There is a real temptation to only care about the spiritual poverty in the world and to entirely forget about the poor man at our own door step. We must fight against this temptation and seek to serve all the needs of our neighbor.

The first corporal work of mercy is to “feed the hungry.” Jesus included this in his exhortation regarding the final judgement, where He turned away the goats who did not give any food to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46). Feeding the hungry is a basic tenet of being a Christian, but unfortunately the modern prosperity we enjoy has spoiled us and we sometimes believe no one goes hungry in America.

However, it does happen and often right in front of us. For example, in 2014 “48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children” and “6 percent of households (6.9 million households) experienced very low food security.” (Feeding America)

Families in America do go hungry and this is especially important as we approach Thanksgiving, when we feast on the enormous plenty that we have and throw away about half of it. Feeling hunger doesn’t phase us, except when we are hungry in-between meals.

What should we do? How do we “feed the hungry?”

The best way we can “feed the hungry” is to be active in our local community. Almost every community has a food bank or emergency food pantry where they distribute food to families in need. Additionally, many communities have “soup kitchens,” where they offer weekly or daily meals for those in need. Many communities even have a Thanksgiving Day meal offered to anyone who is hungry or who is lonely during the holidays. All of these ways bring us into contact with the real people who are hungry.

This is important, for when we give money to various organizations (while a good and noble thing), we are very much removed from the situation and never get our hands dirty. We never have an encounter with a hungry person and we barely have any compassion. We give our money away so that “someone else” can deal with the poor and hungry.

Unfortunately we often scoff at the poor and hungry and tell them plainly to “get a job!” We think there is no reason why they should be hungry and often think that they the ones to blame. However, we do not know their situation and do not realize that we should treat them in the same way that we would want to be treated. Who knows, we could be the next statistic and could be in a situation where we are begging for food.

In the end, feeding the hungry is an important work of mercy that we should actively engage in. We should be the ones who literally “feed the hungry” by volunteering in our local community. In a very real sense, it is not an “option” to feed the hungry, but a mandate given to us by Jesus Christ.

So as we prepare for the holidays, let us remember that we should find some way to “feed the hungry” in our midst.