Walter Trout, in his recent hard hitting song Brother’s Keeper, highlights the compassion of Jesus for the poor and downtrodden: “Jesus said to feed the hungry, Jesus said to help the poor.” The problem, says Trout, “Some of those so-called Christians, they don’t believe in that no more.” Fair enough, Walter, we get the point – some sort of heavenly-minded, individualistic, Jesus-makes-me-feel-better sort of faith cuts no ice in today’s world, where the difference between the haves and the have-nots is getting greater all the time.
But, to be fair, there are an awful lot of Christians who are rolling up their sleeves and getting involved with their communities and the wider world – sometime to their great cost.
Take Joan Cheever, for example. Joan is a former legal journalist, an attorney and founder of the Chow Train, a non-profit mobile food service which provides restaurant-quality meals for food insecure and homeless people in San Antonio. Since 2005, Cheever has been serving three-course hot meals for up to 125 needy people in various locations in the city several times a week.
The problem for Joan, however, is that she’s just been cited by San Antonio police officers for feeding the homeless in Maverick Park and faces a potential fine of £2,000. She argues with the officers that she should be allowed to continue sharing her food because it is a valid expression of her faith under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. One of the police officers replied, “Ma’am, if you want to pray, go to church.” Joan’s retort was jam-packed with good theology: “This is how I pray,” she said, “when I cook this food and deliver it to the people who are less fortunate.”
As the author of 1 John says, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” Joan Cheever knows the answer to that.
How come the police have suddenly become aggression to Cheever after all these years? It seems this is merely the latest incident in a series of homeless crackdowns by police. It seems the city wants its homeless population out of sight, out of mind, and acts of compassion are being viewed as encouraging the “problem.” The authorities would prefer their Christians to have a quietest faith, which doesn’t interfere with business and politics, which sticks to church buildings and prayer meetings and doesn’t cause any fuss.
The problem is, if Christian faith is domesticated and becomes confined to church buildings and starts to revolve around the faithful themselves, it loses touch with Jesus and the New Testament. Jesus expected his followers to be feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and spending time with the sick, those in prison and poor immigrants (check it out – Matthew 25). Joan Cheever’s got it exactly right – this is the essence of prayer.
Let’s hope common sense and compassion prevail when Joan gets her day in court.