The righteous, Jesus explains in Matthew 25:35-36, exemplify their faith through outward acts: “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me’” (ESV).
This is one of the reasons the church has historically taken a leading role in fighting poverty, illiteracy, hunger, illness and injustice and providing a way for new beginnings for those in need.
Somewhere along the way, though, the American church started to retreat from these responsibilities, allowing the federal government to occupy the space once owned almost exclusively by local churches and faith-based charitable organizations. Today the government has its hand in nearly every sector of society — housing assistance, food stamps, foster care, medical coverage, education — and its reach only seems to grow.
I don’t know exactly when the government’s influence began to expand and the church’s started to diminish, but the tragedy of the church relinquishing its God-given responsibilities to the government is that the state fails to offer the quality and personal attention that people of faith, living out their faith, can provide. People in crisis need a shoulder to cry on, a word of encouragement, someone to pray with and a reminder that there’s always hope. They long for human relationships that affirm their God-given dignity. The Covid-19 pandemic and the riots and protests over racial injustice in our nation have shown us these longings in a real, raw way.
When Jesus gave instructions to look after “the least” among us and the oppressed, he wasn’t just talking to the mayor, the attorney general, the housing and urban development secretary or even the president. He was talking to the church — to you and to me.
I think of the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in the Gospels. When his disciples said, “Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food,” Jesus responded, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:15-16 NIV)
The church of Jesus Christ is making a huge mistake when it neglects to serve those in need and those who are hurting. If we hope to see unity, respect, civility and biblical values restored in our nation in 2021, we must stay actively engaged. We must call upon God. Now is the time to align our hearts with his.
While we pray for better policies and for elected officials who honor Scripture, we don’t have to wait for someone else to fix what is broken. We need to recommit ourselves to the tasks that have been assigned to us: to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
Apathy has never been an option for Christians. The church is plan A. There is no plan B.