It’s December 23 and I should be writing a sermon. I should be. But I’ve become distracted by a story about a lunch lady in Pocatello, ID who was just fired for feeding a student. Wait, what? Let me repeat that. Dalene Bowden, who until last week worked in the cafeteria at Irving Middle School, gave at $1.70 lunch to a hungry 12-year-old girl who had no money. If children come through the line with a tray and have no money, the workers are supposed to confiscate the tray and throw it out (because once food’s been served you’re not allowed to give it to someone else). So instead of throwing the food away, she allowed the hungry girl to have lunch. And she was fired for it.
It’s two days before Christmas, and I’ve seen plenty of “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers and posts on Facebook, and buzz in the media. And this happened in Pocatello, ID – a fairly religious city. A little over half of Pocatello is Mormon, and a majority of folks are some variety of Christian. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people in Pocatello are professing to be Christian. What’s that got to do with lunch? Well, this.
First, we need to understand the commandments. The commandment says “Do not steal.” This does not mean don’t go stealing bread when you’re hungry. This is about not taking advantage of the poor. We know this because of all the other commandments (there are 613 in the Hebrew Scriptures) that prohibit any sort of taking advantage of the poor, plus all the commandments that expressly tell us to take care of the poor. We also know that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was a failure to care for the disadvantaged and a failure to be hospitable (Ezekiel 16:49). So any stealing would have been on the part of the school district here, removing food from a hungry child.
Ms. Bowden had, according to her, a spotless record, except for a verbal warning for once – giving a child a cookie. Yes, friends, she has committed the horrible sin of being compassionate!
But this is about keeping Christ in Christmas. So let’s consider what Jesus would do. Well, Jesus fed the hungry (Matthew 14 – feeding the 5000, Matthew 15 – feeding the 4000) and also healed the sick, and ate with sinners. When Jesus fed the 5000 and the 4000, he didn’t tell his disciples to make sure everyone could pay first, and to throw away the loaves and fishes if people didn’t have $1.70.
So here this, Pocatello, Idaho: If you’re interested in keeping Christ in Christmas, you might want to start by feeding the hungry and not firing the cafeteria worker who was doing this – and who, by the way, offered to pay for it herself. Because, news flash – she’s not the thief! You are!
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.
Update: December 24: It seems that the Pocatello school district, under pressure from people around the country who were outraged at this action, have offered Ms. Bowen her job back. Ms. Bowen has not decided yet whether she will accept. You can read the Washington Post article here.