Recently on TED Talks the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, retired pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC spoke about compassion. He spoke of how he learned a living definition of compassion from his mother at home around the dining room table. Forbes was one of eight children who gathered with their mother and father around the table in the evening. As the children grew older, inevitably one or more of the children would be missing when they sat down to eat. His mother showed her love and care and compassion by requiring that before anyone ate and fixed their own plate, a plate would be fixed for those who were not there at the table.
Dr. Forbes says that his Mama reminded him of how God looks around the world table and asks those of us children who are enjoying the blessings set before us—-“Are all the children around the table?” When you bellied up to the table to get your needs met, the question Mama Forbes asked, and God also asks, is: “Where is your brother? ” “Where is your sister?” Forbes says: “Just as Mama Forbes asked her children seated at the table about those missing, so God asks us to look after one another, to serve one another and to include one another. It is not enough to live and provide for myself, that I put food in my own mouth, or that I even pass it to my left. I must remember the ones still making their way to the table.
God requires us to remember those still trying to get to the table. We are not to shun them, we are not to shame them. We are to remember them and honor them by serving them first. This is a theme that runs through both the New Testament and the Old Testament. Those who are blessed by food and shelter are to help provide for the vulnerable, the elderly, the jobless, the homeless, the poor, the widow, the orphan.
The question for us as Christians is: “Are we asking who is missing from our table of blessings and making sure they will be able to make it to the table?.” In the state of Kansas with one child out of five living below the poverty level-–a level set in the 1950’s based on food prices at that time—-I’m afraid our answer is: NO.