(…continued) Now, back to Steve Jobs. Jobs gave Buddhism credit for helping him focus his life and simplify his approach to technology, two of the things that led to his incredible success. He was an intensely focused problem solver and innovator, and, his goal was to make his very complex products simple to use.
But what did Buddhism do for Steve Jobs’ concern for his fellow human beings? Remember, he walked away from Christianity, disappointed with God’s lack of concern for starving children in Africa. But Jobs’ Buddhist beliefs provided little incentive for him to do anything about the suffering of others. He was not known for his generosity. Bill Gates has established a foundation to help the needy of the world in a variety of ways, has donated tens of billions of dollars to it, and invited other billionaires to join him in the effort. Warren Buffet, among many others, has joined with Gates. But Steve Jobs refused. The company Jobs helped start, Apple, does some significant work by sharing a percentage of its profits with charities, but it seems Jobs did not give away very much of his own vast personal wealth to help the starving, or anyone else in the world.
I am reminded of a comment I heard many years ago about world hunger by Sam Kinison. Kinison was a stand-up comedian who died in a car accident in 1992 at the age of 38. I did not like his humor. He was crude, vulgar, abrasive, and went out of his way to ridicule religious faith. He was not the kind of person I ever expected to be quoting in a meditation. But he did say one thing that struck me with its practical honesty and truth. He referred to a photograph of a starving child in Africa (probably much like the one Steve Jobs saw), and he said in his loud and abrasive way, “Why is that guy taking a picture? Why doesn’t he brush the flies off that poor kid’s face and give him a sandwich?”
Good question. In the same way we could ask: “Why spend our time discussing the theological problem of hunger; why not just feed the hungry?” Sam Kinison’s question leads us back Salee’s question. Salee was frustrated with his Buddhist religion that sought only to teach the individual how to transcend his or her own suffering. Salee wanted to get to know the people who were handing out the sandwiches. He wanted to find out what they believed in.
Salee learned that Christians feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and we do so because our Lord Jesus has commanded it. Sam Kinison wondered why the photographer didn’t just give the child a sandwich. That is what Christians are always doing, all over the world, through international relief organizations and in each congregation. In my own congregation we, in fact, do make sandwiches, hundreds of them, one night a month. The boxes of sandwiches are then picked up and handed out to the homeless and hungry on the streets of Minneapolis that very night. We also host and manage the local food shelf, offer a free clothing day each week, and help support an orphanage and school in Haiti. Our congregation is not unique. This is what Christians do.
Of course, we also spend some time looking at what God’s Word says about the problem of evil and suffering. God has told us a few things about that, some things that might have helped Steve Jobs when he was 13 years old if he would have stayed around long enough to ask a few more questions. But Christians don’t just search for abstract answers. We try to be a part of the answer. All of those sandwich makers, clothes sorters, and contributors in our congregation are like Steve Jobs in that they don’t know either why children have to suffer in a world made by a loving God. But we do what we can, and one by one, people are fed and clothed in the name of Jesus.
Matthew 25:34-40 — (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
John 21:15b — Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
We beg you, Lord, to help and defend us. Deliver the oppressed, pity the insignificant, raise the fallen, show yourself to the needy, heal the sick, bring back those who have gone astray, feed the hungry, lift up the weak, and take off the chains of those in bondage. May every nation come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your Son, and that we are your people, the sheep of your pasture. Amen.
–St. Clement of Rome, First century A. D.