“If a brother of sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit” James 2:15-16
The common interpretation of this passage from James is that words are worthless without the deeds to back them up, in this case that we should care for the poor and needy by providing food, clothing and shelter, rather than just saying words to them. While this is a salutary reading, I would like to posit another reading for your consideration.
Quite often Christians give to charities both in monetary gifts, and donations of food and clothing, and while this is good, I think James may be talking of this practice in this passage. What good is it for us to give the poor food if we are just going to send them away? Not all the needs of the poor are needs of food, clothing and shelter. There is just as much need in the poor for human companionship, and recognition of them as human beings. It is far easier for us to give money, and never spend a moment with a poor individual then it is for us to go to where they are, into the slums, dirty and smelly, and spend time with them. What good is it brothers and sisters in Christ if we merely give to the poor as charity cases? Even the pagans do that! But Christ came not to feed the poor and clothe the naked. No he came to restore all humanity into relationship with one another and with him. Christians are called to treat the poor as Christ; we are called to be in relationship with them. Not just to feed them and send them on their way. Christ ate with sinners and tax collectors, and that is what James is calling us to do.