Stewardship and food justice
Our failure to observe proper principles of stewardship can lead us, albeit unwittingly, into food justice violations. It's a bold statement but, in my opinion, that's precisely what Pope Francis was speaking about in a recent weekly homily to his general audience.
During his message the pontiff declared, "…that the food we throw away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor or the hungry!" (Let nothing go to waste, Zenit.org, Junno Arocho Esteves, June 6). His assertion caused me to take a closer look at the doctrinal elements behind this thinking.
Pope Francis begins by referring to the foundational relationship established by God for humanity and creation in Genesis 2:15. That text indicates that God brought humanity into the world "to care for and cultivate" it — a clear allusion to our roles as God's stewards.
Pope Francis says the term cultivate reminds him of a farmer's efforts to make the land fruitful to be shared with others.
It is the third principle of Christian Stewardship that instructs us to share God's gifts generously with joy. It tells us that all we have has been put into our temporary custody in order to address our needs and those of our families. It goes further to say that it is our responsibility to take whatever is beyond our current needs and seek out others with whom we can share it. Please note, we are not to satisfy our every want — only our needs, and we are to share what is left with others joyfully. Those others should be the ones among us who have the least — who have been marginalized — whose needs are not being met. The joy comes from our thankfulness and gratitude that God has blessed us with the opportunity to serve him by serving others — that he has graced us with this chance to be the presence of God to others, especially those in need.
This is precisely what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 25:34-40 when he asserted that his righteous servants were actually ministering to him — showing love and mercy to him — feeding him, clothing him, satisfying his thirst and visiting him in prison when we do the same for the least among us.
This is where our Western cultural values lead us astray. Pope Francis spoke of a "culture of waste" that "... has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food ..."
He said, this culture of waste "... is even more despicable when all over the world ... individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition."
I believe our willingness to waste God's precious gifts in the presence and light of those in need springs from a failure to understand our obligation to Christian stewardship and to recognize the responsibility and opportunity God has given us to serve him and others.
Unfortunately, our focus seems to be on making sure we have more than enough. So, our grocery shelves are stocked with an abundance of food that most people in the world will never see or even imagine. Individuals and restaurants purchase more than what we need so we are sure to have enough. We prepare more than enough for the same reason, and inevitably there is excess, which is hard or impractical to share with others.
I believe the solution begins with a change of thinking on our part. No longer should we seek to be full or stuffed. We should prepare and consume food with the understanding that 1) among all the peoples of the world, we have been extraordinarily blessed, and 2) what we want is probably less than what we actually need.
In humility for what we have received, we can honor God and his precious gift of food by taking only what we need. We can share our excess food with local food banks, soup kitchens or the local St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Excess money we had allocated for our food budget can be donated as well. Becoming more aware of our actual needs instead of our going beyond in order to satisfy our wants can prepare us to minster to those who truly haven't enough.
Then we can embrace the spirit of the quotation attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, "Let us live simply, that others may simply live." Amen.
(Walt Sears has been a lay ecclesiastical minister in Oakland. He is now director of Faith Formation and Evangelization at Blessed Sacrament Church, Seattle.)
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