Today is Tax Day. April 15. That dreaded deadline to file your taxes. While I’ve met one or two people who say they don’t mind paying all the taxes they do, I’ve never met anyone who said it brought them great joy to pay taxes.
Let’s face it. Even when we know we should pay taxes (Jesus and the Apostle Paul make that pretty clear), and even when we know we’re pretty blessed to enjoy the benefits we do in our country, most of us still are less than cheerful when if we have to mail checks to the IRS.
Sometimes we have the same attitude about our responsibilities as Christians. Just as citizens of the United States are expected to pay certain taxes, citizens of Jesus’ kingdom are expected to do certain things. The lesson today talks about one of these expectations—meeting others’ needs.
In Luke 9:10-17, we have one of the accounts of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000. The disciples have had a long day assisting Jesus in ministering to the large crowds. The day is almost over, and they tell Jesus to send the people away to rest and get some food (v. 12).
“He replied, ‘You give them something to eat’” (v. 13). At times, we’re tempted to read right through such statements by Jesus to get on to the “miracle” part of the story, where Jesus pulls the rabbit from the hat and the crowd goes wild. But these words are pretty miraculous in their own way.
“You give them something to eat.” Was Jesus joking? Was he also tired and irritable? Was he testing the disciples? Or was Jesus merely setting up the scene for his miraculous work?
I think Jesus was serious. I think that when he told the disciples, “You give them something to eat,” he was issuing a divine command no less authoritative than any other command Jesus spoke.
We can try to spiritualize it all we want. We can talk about how Jesus is the real bread of life (John 6:35), and that’s true. We can say that ultimately, Jesus knew they couldn’t feed the crowds apart from his help. That’s also true, but it does not mean this command isn’t real. We need God’s grace to obey any command.
The Bible talks about the responsibility of caring for others from beginning to end. When God first called the Hebrew people to be his chosen nation, he included in their law the provisions for gleaning. Remember how Naomi sent Ruth to glean in the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:3). They were fed because God had commanded the people to leave behind some of the harvest for those in need.
When Paul gave his final words of instruction to the elders of the church in Ephesus, after commanding them to be on guard against false teachers and committing them to God’s sufficient word, he adds, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).
James virtually defined real religious devotion in terms of meeting the needs of the helpless: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:26).
“You give them something to eat.” Sure, they needed Jesus’ help to successfully obey. We always do. And this is just one more reason to take him at his word. By commanding them to do something impossible apart from him, he sets up an opportunity to grow their faith, provide for the needy and glorify himself.
Jesus is the real provider when we help the needy. After all, everything we have is a gift from him. We merely are stewards of his bounty. When we give to the poor, they are receiving from him. But Jesus also is the receiver. When we give to the poor, we give to Jesus.
Remember Jesus words about the final judgment? “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 26:37-40).
Jesus is the Source. Jesus is the End. He’s the Alpha and Omega. He is all in all. Giving to the poor in faith, from beginning to end, no matter which way we look at it, points to our loving Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This is why obeying Jesus’ call to meet others’ needs shouldn’t be like paying our taxes. We should be cheerful givers; that’s the kind the Lord loves (2 Corinthians 9:7). As Christians, it is our high privilege and honor to show the world what Jesus is like.
Sacrificial giving shows the world that we trust Jesus to meet our needs and we value people more than treasures. We should rejoice at every opportunity to model the saving grace of Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).