Psalm 22:23-31 describes why we fear and praise the Holy. We do so in part because “the One did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; the One did not turn away from me, but heard when I cried out. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will make with those who attend the One. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek the One shall praise the Holy. May your hearts live forever!” (22:24-26) The psalmist is naming some of the essentials of how to imagine the good. The psalmist is not singing “You bought me a giant house and great renown”. The psalmist is singing that goodness is active and evident when the Holy is addressing some very social sins, for both hunger and abandonment in affliction are not inflicted by the Holy, but by human beings, in how we live together.
In the United States, we don’t want to talk about hunger. Instead, as of 2006, we officially speak of food insecurity (http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm) . In 2010, 14.5% households in the United States suffered food insecurity (stats released Sept. 2011). That’s about 1 in 7 households. Worldwide, 1 in 7 people will go hungry today. (http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats ) The work in caring for people affected by HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis is necessary and good; refusing to leave behind the afflicted is part of the good. And yet hunger is one of the greatest causes of affliction, still killing more people globally every year than malaria, TB, and AIDS.
We trust the worthiness of both the faith community (the great congregation) and of the Holy because we have immediate evidence of steadfast love to remind us. Those of us suffering are not alone. Those of us hungering have food to eat. Neither of those claims are something to dismiss easily or wave away as being less worthy than working for merciful justice. Refusing to abandon or isolate those who suffer and making sure people are fed are part of the work of steadfast love. Feeding the hungry and caring for all who suffer are part of how we build with the Holy the way of merciful justice. They are ways we are called today, through our sacred promises. Our vows, our being part of a faith community, our being people of faith changes and challenges us. Our imagination of what is good shifts from “more for me” to caring for strangers and neighbors. Let the hungry be fed and let us be part of doing that, knowing that those who are hungry are joining in that work, too. Let the afflicted know they are not alone, that they are with others who have known affliction and may even be knowing it right now, alongside. No one left behind. No one hungry. There’s two worthy things to give up for Lent and for all time.