There is nothing quite as bleak as a city street the morning after Mardi Gras. The steam of the morning humidity rises silently over asphalt, riddled with forgotten doubloons, broken bottles, littered cigarettes, used condoms, clotted blood and mangled vomit. For the partygoers who embrace the hedonism of the night before, dawn brings little besides a queasy stomach, a pounding hangover and a throbbing conscience.
For most Americans, this isn’t a strange sight. Even for those of us who would pride ourselves on our conservative recreation, an instant connection between our appetite and satisfaction seems normal. We live in a culture of craving.
Perhaps that is why many Americans, even Christians, seem confused or embarrassed when the conversation turns to hunger and extreme poverty. Perhaps we are less able to articulate what the gospel says about those in desperate need of bread and water because we cannot imagine living in any other society than one with dollar menus and all-you-can-eat buffets.
We may be in our own bed with our spouses the night of Mardi Gras, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t unwittingly conforming to the spirit of the culture.
In our Western global culture, food is assumed. Disconnected from the agrarian and subsistence context that nearly every culture in history would have taken for granted, we more or less assume that the dinner on our tables just appeared there. That would have been a wild fantasy for the Israelite culture which our Lord knew. Bread wasn’t a matter of buying gluten free or not; it was the basic engine of economic survival. Without a daily glean of wheat, death was certain.
This is the kind of reality that still exists for many people around the world. If we as Christians don’t feel the weight of our Lord’s command to show compassion and mercy to those who need us, perhaps it is because we have unintentionally absorbed the consumerism of our culture.
Writing to Timothy, the apostle Paul did not flatly condemn all wealth or tell rich Christians to renounce everything they had. Rather, he commanded that they put their trust not on their wealth but on God. How do they do that? By being ready and eager to give to the poor and those in need (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
By seeing their wealth not as something to which they alone are entitled but as something given to them ultimately by Christ, to be used for good works, Christians stand apart from the appetite-driven values of the world and display a picture of the Savior who left the throne of heaven and became poor for our sake.
The church can take on the tyranny of the appetites not simply by pointing out what in our cultural milieu is inconsistent with the gospel, but by presenting a positive alternative, a counterculture in which the transitory nature of momentary self-satisfaction is transcended by a seeking first of the kingdom of God.
This isn’t easy. It’s the act of crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The temporary hunger we experience by resisting, through the Spirit, our immediate desires for more and more can cause us, like Jesus in the wilderness, to turn away from momentary satisfaction and toward the more permanent things of the kingdom.
The cooperative initiative of Global Hunger Relief (GHR) allows Southern Baptists to take aim at the critical hunger needs around the world. Thanks to the Southern Baptist Cooperative Program, all of the funds given to GHR go directly toward meeting real hunger needs – whether chronic hunger, or hunger precipitated by disasters or urban food deserts, or hunger faced by women rescued from sex trafficking. This is a blessing from Christ that allows Southern Baptists to do real, tangible acts of mercy for the cause of the gospel.
Let’s follow our Savior and empty ourselves of our rights and our appetites to live out our calling to be ambassadors of a King who promises feasts and treasure beyond any worldly imagination.
Mardi Gras may only last for a night, but Easter lasts for eternity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Visit erlc.com.)