Then the earth shall yield her increase;
and God shall bless us.--Psalms 67:6
During the time of Jesus, life for the peasants was almost unbearable. “A dry year could bring water shortages and famine, refuse and animal dung littered the streets, and hygienic sewage disposal was unknown,” writes Roberta L. Harris in The World of the Bible. “Disease and early death were common. Vermin of all kinds infested people or houses…Only the rich ate white bread; poorer people baked theirs from barley…Few people could afford to eat meat or fish on a regular basis.”
Transportation was primitive, so peasants could only eat food grown near their homes. If the local crops died from pests or drought, the peasants died too. Attempts by the peasants to work cooperatively only equalized their poverty. There simply wasn’t enough to go around.
Only by the grace of a miracle could everybody eat. In John 6:11, the Bible describes just such a miracle in the story of how Jesus fed the multitudes.
Thousands of people, after witnessing miracles performed by Jesus on the sick, followed him across the Sea of Galilee and up into the mountains, accompanied by Jesus’s disciples. Jesus wondered aloud how all might be fed.
“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, there is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes, but what are they among so many?”
“Make the men sit down,” Jesus answered.
“Now there was much grass in the place,” John 6:11 continues. “So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.”
The five loaves and two fish had miraculously become enough food to feed all five thousand people. In the time of Jesus, the only way five thousand poor people could gather and eat to their heart’s content was through a miracle. The primitive state of agriculture made it impossible for it to happen any other way.
Today, the situation is completely different. Farming is now a complicated science of hybrids, computers, and irrigation. The world’s farms are now so productive that they can easily feed everyone on earth.
The wilderness and the waterless region will exult, and the desert plain will be joyful and blossom as the saffron.—Isaiah 35:1
Isaiah’s prophecy has come true. Countless people, many motivated by their Christian faith, work in food banks and soup kitchens to bring the end results of that prophecy to those who need it. But instead of a bountiful increase in the world’s diet, today we see the rapid growth of hunger everywhere. For example, in California—the most productive farming area on earth—a 1995 university study revealed that 5 million state residents, including 2 million children and 250,000 seniors, periodically suffer from hunger. The rest of the United States is in no better shape—13 million kids nationwide go to school or to bed hungry.
Does our government follow the example of Jesus and distribute food to those who need it without asking for payment? It does not. Under the guise of “welfare reform” and other cruelties, the government condemns more and more people to the hungry life of the peasants of the ancient world. The federal government, when it’s not busy hiding away thousands of tons of food in caves in the name of “price supports,” uses our taxes to shower subsidies on the corporations which control our food supply. $1.5 billion in taxpayer money has been given to companies like McDonald’s, Sunkist, and Hershey to promote their products overseas. Between 1985 and 1994, $1.3 billion in farm subsidies was given to absentee farm owners residing in America’s fifty biggest cities. These were not the hardworking family farmers of legend, but people like Los Angeles tax attorney Eugene Veenhuis, who bought some land in Montana and, as a result, received over $350,000 in federal crop subsidies. Meanwhile, 150,000 children go hungry in Los Angeles.
Not everyone believes in miracles but everyone has to eat. We will continue to go hungry until we recognize that the miracle of the loaves and the fishes—food for all regardless of ability to pay—can now be made the basis of our daily life. The primitive state of farming which made that impossible during the time of Jesus has evolved into a miraculous world of high-tech agriculture. Yet we still base our distribution of food on the brutal, scarcity-driven methods of ancient times, even though the scarcity is gone.
It’s time for a change.
Essay / 1999