I’ve shared before the description of an editorial cartoon my father kept pinned up in the vestibule of our church that made a deep impression on me I have never forgotten. It was a black and white drawing by the Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Herblock that was originally published in the Washington Post in October 1947. The picture showed a group of well-dressed, happy people sitting at a banquet table overflowing with place settings, goblets, and so much food the table cannot hold any more: a roast, gravy boats, bread and butter, covered dishes, heaping platters of sides. Hovering behind them and filling the rest of the image is a crowd of gaunt, wide-eyed hungry children dressed in rags. There are too many of these skeletal figures to count; the starving masses go on and on into the distance. Back at the table, one of the dinner guests is speaking cheerfully to his smiling companions. The caption reads: “Shall we say grace?”
Shall we say grace? In his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: “Not too many years ago, Dr. Kirtley Mather, a Harvard geologist, wrote a book entitled Enough and to Spare. He set forth the basic theme that famine is wholly unnecessary in the modern world. Today, therefore, the question on the agenda must read: Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?” Dr. King went on: “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will…The well-off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. The poor in our countries have been shut out of our minds, and driven from the mainstream of our societies, because we have allowed them to become invisible. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’”
Do we have the will to be truly great? As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in a few weeks, many people will indeed be deeply blessed and grateful to be able to gather with family and friends around a table that looks like the one in the cartoon, with “enough and to spare.” The tablecloth and menu might be fancier for the holiday, but in many homes, the basic sight of a table with enough food for everyone to eat what they like and go to bed full is an everyday occurrence. Thanksgiving may be the only meal of the year when some families pause together long enough to truly give thanks for the food in front of them.
But there are millions of others who never take a seat at the dinner table for granted. There were 44 million people in our nation living in food insecure households last year. These neighbors are likely not choosing between apple or pumpkin pie, but between paying for groceries or for rent, heat, electricity, medicine, or clothing. Pandemic-era emergency supports that helped close gaps in food insecurity ended in recent months, but hunger certainly did not. Yet some programs that parents and children rely on for essential food remain at risk for cuts. Until our nation makes a permanent change in “concern for ‘the least of these,’” there will be millions still searching for their place at America’s table of plenty.
I end with a grace.
God, we thank You for this food
for the hands that planted it
for the hands that tended it
for the hands that harvested it
for the hands that prepared it
for the hands that provided it
and for the hands that served it.
And we pray and will act for those without enough food in Your world and in our land of plenty.