A deacon was walking along a riverbank one day and spotted a person struggling in the water. The deacon dove in, pulled the person to safety, and administered first aid. Passers-by came to watch, and soon a small crowd gathered.
Someone cried out, “Hey, look! There’s another person in the river!” Sure enough, another drowning victim was struggling by. The deacon dove in, pulled the second victim out of the water, and administered first aid. By now the crowd gathering around was large, over one hundred people.
A third drowning victim was spotted in the water, but this time the deacon stood up and began to trudge up-stream, ignoring the third victim. Someone shouted out, “Hey! Aren’t you going to save that person, too?”
The deacon replied, “Oh, I’ve shown all of you how to do that. It’s your job now. I’m going up-stream to see who is tossing all these people into the river.”
I am one of many, many people who are involved in food and hunger ministries. We need to feed the hungry, as Jesus taught us. We also need to ask why they are hungry.
It is impossible to separate hunger from poverty. If you are involved in a food and hunger ministry, you are involved in a poverty ministry – people are hungry because they are poor.
The reasons why they are poor are multiple. Some are poor because they were born poor and have started out in life so far back in the pack that they cannot catch up with the rest of us.
Some people are poor because they are sick, physically or mentally, and cannot support themselves.
Some people are poor because they made bad decisions, or had a very unlucky break in life.
Some people are poor because they earn an unjust wage and are exploited.
Food ministries are stop-gap measures designed to keep people from starving while they try to climb out of poverty. Without our ministries, people could not get ahead, or get better, or get back on their feet, or get a more just wage.
But food alone will not help them out of poverty. Without additional help for the left-behind, the sick, the unlucky, or the exploited, we will always feed the same people, day in and day out, year after year. We are happy to do so, but we also want to see them climb out of poverty and live the dignified, healthy lives that Jesus’ brothers and sisters should live.
Food ministries are life-savers to people drowning in the river of poverty, but food ministries by themselves cannot pull the poor out of the water.
We need to feed the hungry. We also need to ask why they are hungry. If we can solve the problems about what is tossing them into the river of poverty, we will have fewer people to rescue in the food lines.
(Many thanks to Deacon Susan Naylor, RN, for the parable.)