It had been a long time since Jenna Harmor had sat in church. Even now she didn’t quite know what she was doing here, she just knew that it felt so good to sit once more listening to the words that were spoken by the man behind the pulpit. Memories of her childhood flashed through her mind as she listened to the minister expounding on the account of the guests that had been invited to the wedding feast but had refused to come. In the words she could see the reflection of her life’s story. She had been sent to ‘church-school’ as a child, but had never been challenged on a personal level to do anything more than to ‘try to live a good life’. All of her efforts now seemed to be so futile.
Having been unsuccessful in her chosen career, her short marriage had been a disaster from the beginning, and now, as a single mother of two young children, she was still struggling with the concept of unconditional acceptance. It wasn’t as if she had never heard the ‘gospel story’. Indeed she had heard it repeatedly – but, like the invited guests of whom the preacher was talking, it had never seemed important enough to elicit a response. She had simply ignored the invitation. Now she struggled with the concept that, perhaps, it was too late for her to respond.
“But go into the highways and byways and compel them to come in...” That pretty well summed up her feelings this morning. Having wandered so aimlessly on the back roads of life, it seemed that her encounter with Sonya Barnett, last Friday, had been something of a divine appointment. It was the fervency of Sonya’s excitement that had compelled Jenna to respond to her invitation. So here she sat this morning, pondering the feeling of anticipation that she felt rising within her. She needed to talk more deeply with Sonya, and she was almost ashamed of the sense of urgency that made her wish the minister would conclude the sermon.
It was a delicious meal that Sonya had served, but even more satisfying had been the afternoon discussion that had lasted for several hours. As Jenna said “goodnight” to the children and made herself ready for bed, the aching feeling of failure and loneliness oppressed her once more. How she longed for the security of a loving relationship such as she had witnessed in the home of Pastor Phil and Sonya Barnett. What was it that gave them such peace and contentment? As she had listened to their story that afternoon, she found herself longing for the satisfaction that they had said she could experience. She reached for the small New Testament that Sonya had given her, and opened it to the page that held the red silk ribbon. Her eyes fell on the verse that Pastor Phil had hi-lighted in red. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." She knew that she had been touched by that love today, and it felt so good that she longed for more.
"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world..." that was another concept that boggled her mind. She had always felt that God would not accept her because of the mess that she had made of her life. Now it appeared that God did not condemn her, but that He longed for her to be His child. Yes, that was one thing she had always desired – the satisfaction of knowing that she was wanted. She sat in the stillness of her room for some time, and considered the pattern of her past relationships and her desire to be needed.
Phil Barnett closed his bible and glanced with pleasure at the sleeping form of his wife, nestled into the pillow beside him. As she often did, Sonya had fallen into a satisfied slumber as he read aloud from the Word of Life. He whispered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for her love and support, and with a sigh of satisfaction, he leaned over and extinguished the bedside lamp. Then his thoughts turned to the turmoil of his church situation. So many questions swirled in his mind – questions to which he couldn’t seem to find the answer. When he couldn’t think any longer, he sighed a prayer for increased wisdom, and finally drifted off to sleep.
His slumber was interrupted by the sharp ringing of the bedside telephone. Not wanting Sonya to be aroused, he quickly grabbed the receiver, and mumbled “Hello”. The only sound he heard on the other end of the line was a muffled weeping, and a broken voice that hesitantly called his name. Recognizing the voice, he began to speak words of comfort to Jenna Harmor. Assuring her that he did not mind the lateness of the call, he listened patiently to her agonizing confession. Obviously, Jenna was ready to receive the Word of Truth, and Phil was ready to impart it to her.
Sonya was awake now, and Pastor Phil knew that she was praying fervently, as he lead the penitent late-night caller in the sinner’s prayer. With a sigh of satisfaction, as he replaced the telephone, he was sure that he heard the sound of a heavenly choir, announcing to all eternity, that another sinner had come home. "She’ll come if she’s hungry enough", his words of advice to Sonya reverberated in his mind, "what we need to do is to make sure that there is food on the table when she arrives". He recalled the nights he had spent in tearful intercession for his flock – could this be the beginning of something new?
Over the next few months it was a joy to watch the young believer open like a flower to the refreshing rain of the Holy Spirit. As the water of the word washed over her weary spirit, Jenna Harmor found healing from the hurt caused by the patterns of rejection and disappointment in her life. Now, it was a blessing to see her, present at the table every week, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and it was so fulfilling to watch that hunger being satisfied with the Bread of Life. Nothing could have been more rewarding, however, than the day Ian McDuff , the treasurer, handed Phil a sealed envelope that had been dropped into the morning offering plate. It was clearly addressed to “Pastor Phil” and was obviously meant for his eyes only.
Hesitantly, Pastor Phil slit open the envelope, and retrieved a computer-generated “Thank-you” card that displayed a banquet table laden with a sumptuous amount of food. Opening the card, his eyes were drawn to the words printed in an elegant font – "Then shall the king say to those on the right ... I was hungry and you gave me something to eat". He felt the emotion rising within him as he read the hand-written sentiment – “Pastor Phil, thank-you for feeding me when I was hungry”. The signature read – Jenna Harmor.
Spiritual hunger, like its physical counterpart, has a variety of ways in which it becomes manifest. It may be a casual feeling of necessity for sustenance, or it may be a more severe compelling force. However acute it may be, the result of hunger is a drive to be satisfied. We live in a society in which hunger is regarded as something of a tragedy, and so it is in the physical realm. Certainly, it is emotionally disturbing to view pictures of the less fortunate in third-world countries who must face each day knowing the discomfort of an unsatisfied hunger.
Still, when it comes to experiencing spiritual hunger, Jesus taught that we are actually blessed. Not because God takes pleasure in our discomfort, but rather that He has promised that the ‘spiritually hungry’ shall be filled or satisfied. As we hunger and thirst after righteousness, we discover a deeper level of God-consciousness, and our lives become more conformed to His image. Note that the object of Jesus teaching in this particular passage of scripture was not simply a matter of self-satisfaction, but rather it was a desire to witness the hunger of others being satisfied. Love does not seek for it’s own fulfillment, Paul says in I Corinthians 13, it is more concerned with the satisfaction of others.
Feeding those who demonstrate a spiritual hunger is not simply a matter of preaching a great Sunday-morning sermon, although that is certainly necessary. While that level of ministry is usually reserved for members of the clergy, Jesus was referring to a much broader ministerial base, which potentially includes every believer. All of us need to know how to break the bread of life to the spiritually hungry. Whether it is a particularly applicable scripture verse, a Spirit-inspired word of wisdom, or a sympathetic ear to a troubled soul, Jesus indicates that our inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven is assured by our desire to satisfy the hungry people that we meet each day. When we make this act of love a daily priority, we may well be surprised at the number of people to whom we have ministered when we stand before the Judgement Seat. We need to be conscious of the principle that, as Jesus said, what we do to the very least of these, we do to Him.