When Katie moves from London to Newcastle she falls on hard times. Unable to get work or financial help from the authorities she first visits a food bank and then resorts to shoplifting. Her life is in bits, she is not eating properly in order to feed her two children, and cannot afford basic necessities for herself, like sanitary towels. When she is spotted stealing by the shop security guard he takes her to see the manager. And there she breaks down. The manager immediately grasps the situation and starts putting the stolen goods into her shopping bag. ‘This is nothing to do with the store,’ he tells her, ‘but these items are paid for. All right?’ She nods and thanks him and quietly leaves with her bag, the price for her crime paid for by the manager.
This is a desperate story, as Katie and her family slip into ever darker times. Daniel Blake befriends her, and does everything he can to help her – fixing things in her home, giving her some cash, babysitting and generally helping her out. But he too is slipping into debt, unable to work because of his health, yet unable to cut through all the bureaucracy and receive financial support.
There was a boom town in Galilee, a place called Sepphoris. Jesus and his father most likely worked there, as the place had been devastated by the Romans and was in the process of being rebuilt as Jesus grew up. It became a thriving place of culture and prosperity. Yet there is no record that Jesus ever visited it whilst on his travels, teaching and caring for others. Instead he spent his time in the poorer parts of Galilee, which itself was seen as a down-at-heel place. He spent his time with people like Katie and Daniel Blake, with families overlooked by those in power, those struggling to survive, those living in desperate times. When Jesus fed 5000 on a hilltop, many of them may well have been truly hungry, not just peckish after missing lunch, but really hungry, short of the money and resources to feed their families. The ancient prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as someone who would not snuff out weak and flickering candles, someone bringing good news who will give ‘beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair.’ (Isaiah 61 vv 1-2) Many in Jesus’s day were living with ashes and despair, as so many are today, and when they saw and heard Jesus they hurried to be near him. He himself had come from a humble background, and he spoke their language. He was one of them.