Hoarding in a Crisis, Stealing from Your Neighbor

On the Biblical Call to Not Worry Beyond Today in a Global Pandemic

Todd Brewer / 3.13.20

I walked into Trader Joe’s yesterday and the line wrapped around the entire building. Fresh produce was abundant, so I was hopeful for success. I had my toddler with me so I was committed to making the most of this. As I turned to the freezer section I realized what was going on. It was a barren wasteland; people were hoarding for the apocalypse and stocking up on non-perishable goods. I put the bananas back, walked out of the store with my now crying toddler, and went to another grocery store closer to home. It was perfectly normal — no long lines and fully stocked food.

As I waited to check out it hit me what was going on. I live in a predominately working class, Hispanic neighborhood. The Hoboken Trader Joe’s is frequented by, well, rich white people. My neighbors can’t afford to stockpile beyond the next week’s paycheck. The panic and extra food bought to “prepare for the worst” means that the plates of the poor go empty today. Some might feast on frozen pizzas in their bunker. Others have to scrape by with what they already have.

This isn’t limited to food either. Cleaning supplies to disinfect surfaces, cold and flu medicines, toiletries, it’s all being stockpiled by those who can afford to do so. Just try and buy some hand sanitizer and you’ll see what I mean.

The panic happening right now is bringing out the worst in everyone. People are preparing for the pandemic without thinking about what it means for other people. Our default is to protect ourselves and our families at all costs. We need to stay safe. We need to stay healthy. We need to eat. But self-protection and preparing for the future has a real world cost to others. The reserves of cough medicine you get now means someone else has to suffer today.

Jesus didn’t live during a time of pandemic flu, but he had a lot to say about worrying for the future. He admonished people not to store up treasure on earth, not to worry about tomorrow, and not to wonder where their next meal would come from or whether they’d have a face mask to protect themselves. He told a parable about a foolish rich man who stockpiled his abundant harvest, only to unexpectedly die. While it might seem that worrying for the future could actually prolong our life, Jesus says otherwise. He commends to his disciples a reckless disinterest in the concern for their future wellbeing. Instead of self-preservation, he demands the preservation of others, foregoing our future needs to care for the sick, the helpless, and the needy.

The future is not in our hands, but God’s, who will provide for us just like he provides for the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. It may seem like we are headed for a time of famine, when supplies are low and food is scarce, but tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. When the prodigal son left his father, assured by the riches of his premature inheritance, a famine struck the land. His overflowing grocery cart was not enough. Only the care and provision of his father could weather the storm.

Trusting God in this crisis and not buying everything in sight might sound foolish, but Jesus knew of no other way. He had no place to lay his head and trusted in the generosity of others. He gave up heaven and his very life so that we might one day live without the fear of death, the fear of decay, and even the fear of the coronavirus.

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6 responses to “Hoarding in a Crisis, Stealing from Your Neighbor”

  1. Sheila says:

    This is wonderful, thank you

  2. Michael Nicholson says:

    Thanks, Todd.

  3. Blair Kilgallen says:

    Wow! Timely reminder. We were just in a Denver Trader Joe’s, yesterday. Same long lines – all day long. Same thoughts on hoarding.

    The Father’s perfect love for us casts out fear.

  4. Barbara says:

    Thank you. One man’s surplus is another man’s need. Hard to remember when the crowd around us panics.

  5. Kay says:

    Actually some not so wealthy people buy up non perishables to sell online for exorbitantly high prices.

  6. Nopenever says:

    I’ll stick to Science and history when preparing for these kind of situations. Civilization almost always devolves during mishandled crises. I saw it in Katrina, and it happened in Puerto Rico after the Hurricanes. I served in the National Guard and witnessed this all first hand.

    Also, report to the proper authorities any and all price gouging. It’s illegal for the most part.

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