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Lent Reflection 5: A Way in the Wilderness

ELCA World Hunger’s 40 Days of Giving

Lent 2022

In English and en Espanol

Week 5: A Way in the Wilderness

“Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19)


  • Isaiah 43:16-21
  • Psalm 126
  • Philippians 3:4b-14
  • John 12:1-8


Each of the sessions of this Lenten study has been grounded in a verse from this week’s readings:

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert (Isaiah 43:19).

From the first-fruits offering of Deuteronomy to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, our reflections have pointed to how God continues to “make a way in the wilderness” and calls us to be part of that journey for ourselves and our neighbors. The Scripture readings this season remind us of the promise of new life in Canaan for our ancestors and new life in Christ for us all.

We have imagined a world without hunger, heard of God’s abundant provision of manna and seen the ways the church has worked tirelessly, in the past and today, to end hunger.

Now we reach the culmination of this movement toward the fulfillment of God’s promise, wherein Jesus announces: “You will always have the poor among you” (John 12:8 NIV).

It’s not the most encouraging verse in the Bible.

How often have people twisted these words into an excuse for passivity or a sneering retort to proclamations of hope that hunger and poverty can, one day, end? Along with its partner in 2 Thessalonians (“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”), it’s one of the “hard passages” for people of faith eager to inspire others to respond to hunger and poverty. These troublesome verses are often used to support restrictive, counterintuitive policies and practices that inhibit real progress against hunger and poverty. Why try harder to end hunger and poverty if even Jesus says poverty isn’t going away?

The passage yields more when we dig a little deeper. Jesus may actually be referring to an earlier part of the Bible here, and in that earlier verse the words are no statement of fact but a challenge to the people of God. The verse appears in a section of Deuteronomy about the Jubilee Year, a time every seven years when debts were forgiven. That earlier passage sheds new light on the verse from John:

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).

Far from resigning us to poverty in the world, the verse challenges followers of Christ. In his commentary on Deuteronomy, Martin Luther writes, “‘The poor you always have with you,’ just as you will have all other evils. But constant care should be taken that, since these evils are always in evidence, they are always opposed.”

For Luther, to “always have the poor among you” meant to be confronted always by God’s call to respond to human suffering and oppose the evil that creates it. This is not resignation but activation of the people of God in the service of the neighbor.

What’s more, we may find in Jesus’ words a lesson for our identity as church together. “You will always have the poor among you.” If we are truly the
people of God, then we are called to be in community with neighbors who have been marginalized, excluded, oppressed and impoverished by the world’s injustice.

As church, our calling is not merely to minister to our neighbors but to bear witness to the “new thing” God is doing in our world, a new community God is making possible. This is not easy work. Confronting hunger and poverty alongside our neighbors means facing the dangerous realities that impact our neighbors.

In Palestine, Defense of Children International–Palestine (DCIP), supported by ELCA World Hunger, works with children and families to protect their rights and give them the care and support they need. Settlement expansion in the West Bank and increased military presence in daily life put children at risk of negative encounters with Israeli forces. Children detained for
violating the often-discriminatory laws of Israeli occupation risk abuse from both Israeli and Palestinian forces. Despite significant legal reform in recent years, DCIP has found that practices have yet to fully align with domestic or international legal frameworks for juvenile justice and that children are paying the price, navigating a military legal system that fails to meet the minimum international standards, particularly for juveniles.

DCIP provides both legal and social support for children accused of crimes, and it works with their families, many of whom live in poverty, to improve their situations emotionally, socially and financially through vocational training, the support of social workers and more. This support is critical to addressing the root causes of hunger and poverty in Palestine.

Responding to hunger means accompanying neighbors as they confront the systems of injustice that create hunger. It means facing harsh realities with realistic perspectives. This is not the false “realism” that twists Jesus’ words in the Gospel but the realistic acknowledgement that we face our own journey in the wilderness before we reach the fullness of God’s promise. Friends, we have a long way to go.

And yet … and yet …

As we have seen throughout our Lenten journey, we are not going it alone. God is with us along the way, inspiring hope and courage and revealing Godself in the neighbors we encounter along the way. We know that this Lenten journey is not the end. The season’s fasting, praying and selfreflecting spiritual disciplines prepare us for the road ahead, the road that leads to the cross — and beyond, to a new community God makes possible.

This is not an easy road to travel. But we know that, even amid the challenges ahead, the “new thing” God is doing “springs forth,” that God is even now working to “make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).

Do you not perceive it?


  1. What does it mean for the church to “always have the poor” with us? How might we rethink Jesus’ words in light of the study session for this week?
  2. In what ways does your congregation act as a neighbor toward people in need in your community?
  3. Why is the church called to work for justice in the world? What might the work of DCI-Palestine teach us about being the people of God?
  4. How can the church inspire hope when the promised future can seem so far away?
  5. Where is God calling you and your congregation to be today? How can or will you be part of the “new thing” God is calling forth?


God of the poor widow, the lost sheep, and the wandering Aramean,
God of the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger,
God of the naked, the ill, and the imprisoned,

We confess before you that the church has not always been where
you have called us to be. We have failed to seek your face in our
neighbors in need. We have allowed despair to bind our hands and
feet. Change us, O God. Free us to act with hope and courage.

Open our hearts to perceive your presence in and among our
neighbors. Inflame us with holy passion for the work you invite us
to in the world. Breathe new life into your church, that we may be
the people you call us to be in the world you call into being:

A church of the poor widow, the lost sheep and the wandering Aramean.
A church of the hungry, the thirsty and the stranger.
A church of the naked, the ill and the imprisoned.

Do a “new thing” with us and through us, that we may be a
community of hope, comfort and welcome — a living sign of the
way we are making in the wilderness. Amen.


SEMANA 5: Un camino en el desierto

“¿No se dan cuenta?” (Isaías 43:19).
Lecturas: Isaías 43:16-21, Salmo 126, Filipenses 3:4b-14, Juan 12:1-8

Cada una de las sesiones de este estudio de Cuaresma se ha basado en un versículo de las lecturas de esta semana:

¡Voy a hacer algo nuevo! Ya está sucediendo, ¿no se dan cuenta? Estoy abriendo un camino en el desierto, y ríos en lugares desolados (Isaías 43:19).

Desde la ofrenda de primicias de Deuteronomio, hasta la enseñanza de Jesús en el Evangelio de Lucas, nuestras reflexiones han señalado cómo Dios continúa “abriendo un camino en el desierto” y nos llama a ser parte de esa jornada para nosotros y nuestro prójimo. Las lecturas bíblicas de esta temporada nos recuerdan la promesa de una nueva vida en Canaán para nuestros antepasados y una nueva vida en Cristo para todos nosotros.

Hemos imaginado un mundo sin hambre, hemos oído hablar de la abundante provisión que Dios hizo de maná, y hemos visto las formas en que la iglesia ha trabajado incansablemente, en el pasado y en la actualidad, para acabar con el hambre.

Ahora llegamos a la culminación de este movimiento hacia el cumplimiento de la promesa de Dios, en la que Jesús anuncia: “A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes” (Juan 12:8 NVI).

Este no es el versículo más alentador de la Biblia.

¿Cuántas veces la gente ha tergiversado estas palabras en una excusa para la pasividad o una réplica burlona a las proclamas de esperanza de que el hambre y la pobreza pueden, algún día, terminar? Junto con su versículo compañero en 2 Tesalonicenses (“El que no quiera trabajar, que tampoco coma”), es uno de los “pasajes difíciles” para las personas de fe ansiosas por inspirar a otros a responder al hambre y la pobreza. Estos versículos problemáticos a menudo se usan para apoyar políticas y prácticas restrictivas y contraintuitivas que inhiben el progreso real contra el hambre y la pobreza. ¿Por qué esforzarse más para acabar con el hambre y la pobreza si incluso Jesús dice que la pobreza no va a desaparecer?

El pasaje brinda más cuando cavamos un poco más profundo. En realidad, Jesús podría estar refiriéndose aquí a una parte anterior de la Biblia, y en ese versículo anterior las palabras no son una declaración de hechos, sino un desafío al pueblo de Dios. El versículo aparece en una sección de Deuteronomio sobre el año del jubileo, un tiempo cada siete años en que las deudas eran perdonadas. Ese pasaje anterior arroja nueva luz sobre el versículo de Juan:

Gente pobre en esta tierra, siempre la habrá; por eso te ordeno que seas generoso con tus hermanos hebreos y con los pobres y necesitados de tu tierra” (Deuteronomio 15:11).

Lejos de resignarnos a la pobreza en el mundo, el versículo desafía a los seguidores de Cristo. En su comentario sobre Deuteronomio, Martín Lutero escribe: “‘El pobre siempre lo tienen con ustedes’, así como tendrán todos los demás males. Pero se debe tener el cuidado constante de que, dado que estos males siempre son evidentes, siempre se les presente oposición”.

Para Lutero, “a los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes” significaba ser siempre confrontado por el llamado de Dios a responder al sufrimiento humano y oponerse al mal que lo causa. Esto no es resignación sino activación del pueblo de Dios al servicio del prójimo.

Lo que es más, en las palabras de Jesús podemos encontrar una lección para nuestra identidad como iglesia juntos. “A los pobres siempre los tendrán con ustedes”. Si realmente somos el pueblo de Dios, entonces estamos llamados a estar en comunidad con los vecinos que han sido marginados, excluidos, oprimidos y empobrecidos por la injusticia del mundo.

Como iglesia, nuestro llamado no es simplemente ministrar a nuestro prójimo, sino dar testimonio de “algo nuevo” que Dios está haciendo en nuestro mundo, una nueva comunidad que Dios está haciendo posible. Este no es un trabajo fácil. Enfrentar el hambre y la pobreza junto a nuestro prójimo significa enfrentar las peligrosas realidades que afectan a nuestros vecinos.

En Palestina, Defense of Children International–Palestine (DCIP) [Defensa Internacional para los Niños de Palestina], con el apoyo de ELCA World Hunger, trabaja con niños y familias para proteger sus derechos y brindarles la atención y el apoyo que necesitan. La expansión de los asentamientos en la Ribera Occidental y el aumento de la presencia militar en la vida cotidiana ponen a los niños en riesgo de encuentros negativos con las fuerzas israelíes. Los niños detenidos por violar las leyes a menudo discriminatorias de la ocupación israelí corren el riesgo de sufrir abusos tanto por parte de las fuerzas israelíes como de las palestinas. A pesar de la importante reforma legal de los últimos años, el DCIP ha descubierto que las prácticas aún no se han alineado plenamente con los marcos jurídicos nacionales o internacionales para la justicia de menores, y que los niños están pagando el precio, navegando por un sistema legal militar que no cumple con las mínimas normas internacionales, particularmente para los menores.

DCIP da apoyo legal y social a los niños acusados de delitos y trabaja con sus familias —muchas de las cuales viven en la pobreza— para mejorar emocional, social y financieramente sus situaciones a través de la capacitación vocacional, el apoyo de los trabajadores sociales y más. Este apoyo es fundamental para atacar las causas profundas del hambre y la pobreza en Palestina.

Responder al hambre significa acompañar a los vecinos mientras enfrentan los sistemas de injusticia que crean hambre. Significa hacer frente a realidades duras con perspectivas realistas. Este no es el falso “realismo” que tergiversa las palabras de Jesús en el Evangelio, sino el reconocimiento realista de que enfrentamos nuestra propia jornada en el desierto antes de alcanzar la plenitud de la promesa de Dios.  Amigos, nos queda un largo camino por recorrer.

Y sin embargo… y sin embargo…

Como hemos visto a lo largo de nuestra jornada cuaresmal, no vamos solos. Dios está con nosotros en el camino, inspirando esperanza y valentía y revelándose a sí mismo en los vecinos que encontramos en el camino. Sabemos que esta jornada cuaresmal no es el fin. Las disciplinas espirituales de ayuno, oración y autorreflexión de la temporada nos preparan para el camino por delante, el camino que conduce a la cruz; y más allá, a una nueva comunidad que Dios hace posible.

No es un camino fácil de recorrer. Pero sabemos que, incluso en medio de los desafíos que tenemos por delante, el “algo nuevo” que Dios está haciendo “brota”, que Dios incluso ahora está trabajando para “abrir un camino en el desierto y ríos en lugares desolados” (Isaías 43:19).

¿No se dan cuenta?

Preguntas para la reflexión

  1. ¿Qué significa para la iglesia que “a los pobres siempre los tendremos con nosotros”? ¿Cómo podríamos replantearnos las palabras de Jesús a la luz de la sesión de estudio de esta semana?
  2. ¿De qué maneras actúa su congregación como el prójimo de las personas necesitadas en su comunidad?
  3. ¿Por qué está llamada la iglesia a trabajar por la justicia en el mundo? ¿Qué podría enseñarnos la obra de DCI-Palestina en lo que respecta a ser el pueblo de Dios?
  4. ¿Cómo puede la iglesia inspirar esperanza cuando el futuro prometido puede parecer tan lejano?
  5. ¿Dónde está llamando Dios a su congregación y a usted a estar hoy? ¿Cómo puede ser o será parte del “algo nuevo” del que Dios está hablando?


Dios de la viuda pobre, de la oveja perdida y del arameo errante, Dios del hambriento, el sediento y el extranjero, Dios del desnudo, el enfermo y el encarcelado:

Confesamos ante ti que la iglesia no siempre ha estado donde nos has llamado a estar. No hemos podido buscar tu rostro en nuestros vecinos necesitados. Hemos permitido que la desesperación nos ate las manos y los pies. Cámbianos, oh Dios. Libéranos para actuar con esperanza y valentía.

Abre nuestros corazones para percibir tu presencia en nuestros vecinos y entre ellos. Enciéndenos con santa pasión por el trabajo al que nos invitas en el mundo. Sopla nueva vida a tu iglesia, para que podamos ser las personas que nos llamas a ser en el mundo que llamas a ser:

Una iglesia de la viuda pobre, la oveja perdida y el arameo errante. Una iglesia del hambriento, el sediento y el extranjero.

Una iglesia del desnudo, el enfermo y el encarcelado. Haz “algo nuevo” con nosotros y a través de nosotros, para que podamos ser una comunidad de esperanza, consuelo y bienvenida; una señal viva del camino que estás abriendo en el desierto. Amén.


Child Tax Credit: Hunger Policy Podcast June 2021


We know that hunger is not just a matter of food but a matter of policy. Public policies impact where our food comes from, the kinds of food we eat, how we acquire food – and what our options are when we don’t have enough. In this conversation for the ELCA World Hunger blog, John Johnson, director of domestic policy for the ELCA, joins Ryan Cumming, program director for hunger education with ELCA World Hunger, to talk about the expanded Child Tax Credit, a huge step forward in addressing child poverty in the US this year.

Links that were shared during the recording:

Correction: In the recording, a July webinar on the Child Tax Credit is mentioned. This updated date for this is July 7. Join partners of the ELCA and White House officials, including Mr. Gene Sperling, for this national webinar to learn about the tax credit’s historic expansion and to hear from experts on the need to make the expansion permanent. Registration information will be available soon. Follow the social media links below to get updates.

Follow the ELCA’s Witness in Society team on social media for updates about the Child Tax Credit and other important public policy issues:


Twitter: @ELCAAdvocacy

Instagram: @ELCAAdvocacy

And follow ELCA World Hunger for up-to-date information on hunger and poverty in the US and around the world, including the creative ways our church is responding by walking with neighbors, partners and companions toward a just world where all are fed:


Twitter: @ELCAWorldHunger

Instagram: @ELCAWorldHunger

Interested in more conversations like this about hunger and policy? Are there specific public policy issues you’d like to hear about? Let us know! Email to share your feedback and ideas.

Subscribe to the ELCA World Hunger blog, and sign up to join the ELCA’s network of advocates.

(If you are one of our regular subscribers to the ELCA World Hunger blog and reading this via email, the audio and video files may not show up. Just click on the title of the post to head over to the main blog webpage to listen in.)

In Memory of Rev. George Johnson


As many of you may already know, Rev. George Johnson, one of the foundational leaders of ELCA World Hunger has died. For seven years (1980-1987) George served as Director of the World Hunger Program for the former American Lutheran Church (now ELCA). Pr. Johnson rooted the then American Lutheran Church’s Hunger program, which would grow into ELCA World Hunger, on a foundation of justice. The ELCA World Hunger staff give thanks to God for his life and his service to the church.

George taught that a sustained life-long commitment to justice must start with one’s worship life. While this may not sound radical at first read, it was a bold statement in his time and is worth taking the time to explore what it means for life in 2020. It can be easy to relegate the work we do towards a just world where all are fed to something that is done outside of Sunday service. It is easy to look at our soup kitchens, meal packing programs, community gardens, job training programs, advocacy work, and more as standalone ministries, not as the central work of the church that flows from the shared songs and prayers of Sunday worship.

For George, creating a just world where all are fed started not with the chopping of vegetables for a soup supper or picking up the phone to call your congressperson, it stated with the songs, teaching, and prayers shared in worship. George’s work and life serve as a reminder of what it means to live into that Sunday promise of justice and carry it out into the world.

So, it is fitting that George’s final work from his very long and prolific life explores various theological understandings of justice that people can use to ground their personal and communal lives of worship in the justice that Christ preached. To celebrate Pr. Johnson’s life and service to ELCA World Hunger, here is an excerpt from the preface to his final book, No Time for Silence:

I HAVE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Nothing to brag about, nothing to be ashamed about, and I see no reason to be silent about it. My brain served me well for eighty-five years, but now it has more and more difficulty remembering things.  I decided not to spend the remaining days of my life dwelling on what I have lost. Instead, I want to give people resources that will help them think and act critically in an age of confusion and conflicting voices. While I come from a Christian background, the points in this book pertain to people of all faiths, cultures, races, and genders.  The main premises of Silence Is Not the Answer are for all people to read and act on. I have read widely these past years about theology, politics, and suffering and its root causes. I cannot recall all that I have learned, but I can refer you to authors and spiritual leaders who I believe will challenge your preconceptions and give you hope for the future. One of my favorite authors and theologians at this stage in my life is Marcus J. Borg. His book Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary is a masterful portrayal of the historical Jesus and emerging Christianity. He explores the way Jesus resisted the domination system of the Roman empire power of his day. For Borg, both the personal and the political dimensions of Jesus’s message are important for understanding the revolutionary aspects of his life and teaching. I highly recommend Borg’s book if you want to understand who Jesus is for Christians today.

Another theologian I find inspiring is Leonardo Boff, a Roman Catholic priest from Brazil whose speaking out about the suffering of the poor and the death of millions in Latin America made head-line news. Despite attempts by the church to silence Boff because his speech was offensive to the establishment, his message made a difference. Boff’s book When Theology Listens to the Poor is a call for the modern church to create a better option for the poor. He points out how Mark 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you,” is used to support the status quo and creates an attitude of fatalism, pessimism, and cynicism that destroys any hope that things could be different.  However, Boff argues that the true meaning of this verse is that the opportunity to help is always there. Boff reminds us that when Jesus offered a better option for the poor, he was making it clear that God acts to free people from the bondage of poverty and oppression. It is the prophetic task of the church to do the same. Some people may say, “I don’t remember George espousing such progressive positions in his previous writings. Has he changed his mind?” In the past, I sometimes felt that I didn’t have enough information about an issue, that others had good points too, that I  should wait to see what happened and that my voice wouldn’t make a  difference.  But these excuses allowed bad choices to be made that cause suffering for our brothers and sisters.  As Brian McLaren says in his book The Great Spiritual Migration, we are all in the process of development. Sometimes new wine needs new wineskins, as Larry Rasmussen says. I have a certain perspective. My education and life experience have shaped my thinking and analyses. Others will see things differently. I respect that. But as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel says, “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.”

We need to read and listen attentively and then speak out for causes that we think are important. John the Baptist is described in the Gospels as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He calls us to “repent,” wake up and change.  Silence Is Not the Answer is a collection of prophetic voices urging us to wake up, notice what is happening, and take a stand. Our world today is filled with fear, conflict, war, and confusion. I encourage you to read the writers in this book with an open mind and think about their urgent cry. Some points will be made more than once.  Some truths are worth repeating. When I say to my wife, “I love you,” I am glad that Vivian does not say, “George, you already told me that. “When I began putting this book together, my wife said, “With your diminished hearing and eyesight and your memory problems, are you able to tackle another book?” Maybe not, but some things need to be said as we move toward the 2020 elections and beyond. So, with the help of Vivian and a professional editor, I collected some pieces written by myself and others to let our voices be heard and break the silence. If we remain silent, then our leaders and fellow citizens will not wake up and change course.  We must speak up and act now before our society is beyond saving


ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grants Now Available!

The application for Domestic Hunger Grants for 2018-2019 is now open! The Domestic Hunger Grants program supports ministries that accompany people who experience poverty and hunger in the communities across the United States and Caribbean. These grants do more than just give food to people who are hungry – in addition to immediate relief programs, ELCA World Hunger Domestic Hunger Grants fund projects in advocacy, community development, community-based organizing and relief that strengthen the foundations of communities affected by hunger and poverty.

In 2017, this program allocated a total of $691,810 to support 347 domestic projects and programs ranging from congregational food pantries to urban farms, job training and living-wage advocacy campaigns. ELCA World Hunger-funded Domestic Hunger Grants make a difference.

Domestic Hunger Grants support a wide variety of ministries connected to ELCA congregations and groups, from food pantries to job programs for youth, and from community gardens to programs addressing food waste. If you are looking to seed, grow, or nurture a new or existing program, consider applying today!

All applications must be postmarked no later than June 30, 2017, to be considered for funding in 2018 and 2019. You can find the application online at

Here are just a few examples of programs supported in part by Domestic Hunger Grants in 2016 and 2017:

Manna from Heaven – Myra, Kentucky

This food pantry in the heart of Appalachia provides nutritious food and clothing to more than 250 people each month, in an area where access to food and social services is hard to come by. In partnership with Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Cincinnati, Ohio, Manna distributes 10,000-15,000 pounds of food each month. Their Domestic Hunger Grant helps fund the delivery of this food from Cincinnati to Myra.

Young Leaders Program – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

In a community marked by contrasts – the most community gardens and the highest rate of pollution in the city – St. Paul’s Young Leaders Program works with youth ages 11-15 to help them develop their skills to be the leaders of today and tomorrow. Youth work on projects ranging from city beautification to arts to community engagement. With support from the community at St. Paul’s, the Young Leaders are making their mark on their neighborhood – and experiencing a welcoming community where their talents are valued and nurtured.

Table Grace Café – Omaha, Nebraska

At Table Grace Cafe, anyone who walks through the door is served a nutritious meal, even if they don’t have the money to pay. People who eat there are asked to pay what they can or to donate their time. But more than that, the staff at Table Grace Café don’t just serve food, they listen to the people who come in, they hear their stories, and they try to help in other ways, including through their job training program.

Christ the King Deaf Church – West Chester, Pennsylvania

Christ the King Deaf Church accompanies neighbors who face vulnerability to hunger in complex, interrelated ways and yet are under-served by other agencies, including immigrants and refugees with hearing and vision impairments, people in prison who are deaf, and neighbors who are both deaf and blind. Christ the King Deaf Church offers communication and mobility assistance, case management, visits to the Graterford correctional facility, literacy and life-skills mentoring, and advocacy. In addition, the church provides the opportunity for the clients accompanied by these services to exercise their leadership of the programs through participation on an advisory committee or church council.

ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grants Also Available!

If you or your congregation, synod or organization is considering an event or program to help folks learn about hunger, poverty and how our faith calls us to respond to both, you may be eligible for an ELCA World Hunger Education and Networking Grant. More information can be found at