“The Spirit of Our God is upon me:
because the Most High has anointed me
to bring Good News to those who are poor.”Luke 4: 18
There is a parable I heard many years ago that touched me and has influenced the way I think about community. I cannot give credit to the one who originated this story because it was told orally so long ago. I will tell it to you.
Once upon a time… a community was having a picnic on a hill overlooking the river that ran by their town. The children were playing and the adults were visiting over the remnants of their picnic feast. Without warning the children began to shout and point to the river. There were miniature boats coming down stream and in each little boat was a baby. The boats were being tossed about in the rapids, and some of then were nearly sinking. People ran down the hill and into the river and began to grab the boats and pull them to shore. Others took the babies out of the boats and handed them to people who ran up the hill. There were waiting arms to take the babies and care for them, and some people were on their phones calling for supplies — diapers, blankets, clothes, formula — and trying to find out where they could take the babies.
A small group of people stood off to the side staring down at the river and talking things over. At last they turned to leave, but people shouted at them, “Where are you going? Can’t you see how much there is to do for all these babies?” One person turned and answered, “We are going upstream to find out why there are babies in the river,” said one. Another added, “And we are going to put a stop to whatever has caused this.”
Communities are called to care for the poor, especially communities of faith. There are many roles to fill in caring for those in need, and it takes everyone in the community doing something. We need those who point out the need, and those who rush to do something, and those who receive those in need and provide the care, and some who send money to help purchase supplies and provide shelters. But there must be those who go upstream to find out why people are in need — why can’t they afford to buy food? Why are there so many homeless people? Why are people turning to drugs? Why are there babies in the river? And there absolutely must be those who get involved politically so that whatever has caused the situation can be stopped. Structures and systems that perpetuate poverty must be changed.
Communities of faith are good at charity, especially toward their own members, but not so good at going upstream, at asking why, at getting involved to change things. Questioning the structures and systems of society is exactly what we must do if there is to be any hope of changing things and making this a better world. Poverty, homelessness, and suffering must not be tolerated as normal. It is not enough to rescue the babies out of the river, we must find out why they are in the river and put a stop to it.
The rest of Luke 4: 18 is: “God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison — to proclaim the year of Our God’s favor.”
Christ was sent to us as good news. The word Gospel means good news. It is good news for the poor, and to those who are captive in systems of low wages, poor working conditions, and exploitation. We are those who are blind if we fail to see the structures and systems that ensure that riches go to the upper classes while workers barely survive.
God has a preferential option for the poor. In other words, God sides with the underdog every time. Let’s determine to be on God’s side and refuse to turn a blind eye to the structures and systems that keep things as they are. It’s time for at least some of us to risk going upstream to find out what’s going on and then working to change things so we can have a better world.
My beloved ones, continue to be charitable, but at the same time support those who are working for change. Do not be blind.