Love your neighbors. Yes, all of them.


By Jared Noetzel

Why don’t we address hunger and poverty in the United States before worrying about the needs of people elsewhere?

As we embark on this year’s Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive, this question about our responsibility to meet the needs of people in our own country will become common. In a world with limited resources, this isn’t an inappropriate question. And regardless of the group of people Bread for the World seeks to serve, we’re always looking for the most dignified and efficient approach to alleviating poverty.

Thankfully, Scripture offers a few ways to think about caring for people in need both near and far.

During Jesus’ final journey back to Jerusalem before his Passion, he answered a similar question, posed by a Jewish lawyer. After establishing that the Old Testament can be summed up in the commandments to love God and love neighbor, the lawyer asked, “And who is my neighbor?”(Luke 10:29)

Jesus answered him with the parable of the Good Samaritan. And like any good parable, the lawyer didn’t get a direct answer.  Instead of providing the lawyer with a litmus test for whom he could include and exclude, he told the lawyer to do as the Samaritan (Luke 10:38). Jesus challenged the lawyer to love  someone he likely would have excluded – someone like the Samaritan. Today we can do the same by including the needs of all our neighbors near and far, instead of seeking to determine who we can’t or shouldn’t be concerned for just as the lawyer did.

Throughout his epistles (1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:15; Romans 15:14–32), Paul references a “collection” to relieve the needs of the church in Jerusalem. In fact, Paul undertook great pains to make at least two collections for “the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26) from the various Gentile churches he visited. At Paul’s urging, Churches in Macedonia, Corinth, and Galatia all contributed to relief efforts despite the vast distance and differences in culture and language. Paul’s insistence makes it clear that the differences between the giving community and the receiving community should not hinder the generosity of those who had the means to support those in need.

Those of us who live in affluent countries like United States have the capacity to support those who live with the challenges of hunger and poverty elsewhere. Our differences, or the needs in our own country, are important, but they weren’t reasons for the early Christians to ignore the need of others. The often cited texts in 2 Corinthians about stewardship (specifically 8:1-9:15) were written in the context of Paul urging the Corinthian church to complete its pledged giving to the cause of relief. Paul writes,

I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)

Together, these texts — and many others — point to a God who is concerned with the well-being of people who suffer. In Jesus’ parable and Paul’s collection, we see that love has no bounds. In caring for the needs of people near and far, we share God’s love with the world.

Learn more about the 2016 Offering of Letters: Survive and Thrive, and make sure to participate in a letter-writing event.

Jared Noetzel is a project coordinator in church relations at Bread for the World.

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