Hunger and need are the Christian’s opportunity for compassion.

“Lean years”—the phrase comes from Genesis. Characteristically, however, we do not remember its context as “The Story of the Lean Years” but “The Story of Joseph the Provider.” Perhaps we should revive this side of the story.

Joseph seems the type for our time. He says the nature of his commission is “to preserve life,” or “to keep alive many survivors” (Gen. 45:5–7). This is no isolated position in Scripture. “Preserving” gains centrality in the New Testament when Jesus equates “to do good” with “to save life” (Mark 3:4). His actions show he fulfilled the promise of Joseph’s example: he sustained people both physically and spiritually.

Moreover, he called his disciples to participate in his ministries. The parable of the Good Samaritan makes preserving life central to Christian ethics. It is a basic form of love toward our neighbor: Christianity is a relief and rescue enterprise. In his parables on stewardship, Jesus generalizes the model of Joseph the Provider, making it a rule for all believers. We are to be like “the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time” (Matt. 24:45).

We associate Joseph especially with stewardship. This immediately applies to the battle against world hunger recently described as equivalent to William Wilberforce’s struggle to abolish slavery. To continue Christ’s ministry on earth, the church must provide those in need with the material means for life. “Keeping alive … many survivors” ought to become the conscious commitment of Christians today: we are meant to be providers of people. One would expect Christian businessmen in the lineage of ...

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