It is nothing new for cities to seek to try and eradicate the homeless population by enacting policies to make being homeless even more difficult. Cities can’t make being homeless illegal, so instead, cities outlaw everything that homeless people do (loitering, begging, sleeping on a park bench, etc.).
But some cities have taken this to a whole new level: making it illegal for people to feed the homeless. Citing use of public property as the main issue, these laws are an attempt to “clean up” downtown areas by removing the homeless population. But is this even moral – and is there an inherent unbiblical ideal being applied here? After all, we’re now saying one person cannot legally give food to another person.
Both the Old and New Testaments have clear directives when it comes to caring for the poor and homeless. As a part of the Mosaic Law, provisions were made for the homeless and the wanderers. God told Moses, “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22). Built into the laws of Israel was the command to feed the poor by not fully reaping one’s fields. Part of the God-ordained order of the nation of Israel was care for the poor through feeding them.
Later in the Old Testament, when speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God revealed one of the sins of Sodom by saying, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ez. 16:49). Among the sins that caused God to rain down fire and sulfur from the sky as a form of his wrath was the fact that they did not care for the poor and needy when they themselves had excess.
In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles also affirmed the role of believers in caring for the poor by feeding them. Jesus said, “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matt. 25:37-40). While this passage is debated as to who “the least of these, my brothers” are, it is clear that there is a direct correlation between righteousness and caring for (and feeding) the poor. Later in the New Testament, James tells us, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (Jas. 2:15-16). Implicit in James’ questioning is the notion that it is right to clothe and feed the one who is in need. Clearly, the biblical standard is that we should care for those who are hungry and needy — not push them away.
While it is understandable that local governments want to clean up the city, homeless people are not pests that should be removed. They are human beings who bear the image of God (just like you and I do) and should be treated with dignity and compassion. Individuals and churches should have the right to take action when they see someone in need.
The very idea that a compassionate person who is helping another human being would be subject to civil penalty is deplorable. What Jesus made clear in Matthew is that He cares greatly about how we address those around us who are in need. This continued the motif from the Old Testament that God was concerned with Israel’s treatment of the poor. God cares for the poor and has commanded Christians to care for the poor. No civil law should keep a believer from feeding those who are hungry. Such a law should never exist in the first place.
Do you agree or disagree? Should cities ban the feeding of the homeless? Share your views in the section below: