A Parable

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice. Proverbs 13:23

The opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. Bryan Stevenson

Once there was an island called Have Island filled with green forests and blue lakes. The people of Have Island made nets from the forests, fished the lakes, and thanked the gods for their wealth.

One morning, the people of Have Island were met by a woman in a boat. She said she was from Have Not Island, was hungry, and needed help.

“What shall we do?” The people asked the priest. “What have the gods told us?”

The priest reviewed the scriptures and advised, “The gods have told us to love mercy, so we shall help the woman from Have Not Island.”

“How shall we help?” The people asked the priest.

“An easy problem to solve,” the priest said to himself. “The woman is hungry,” the priest said to the people, “so we shall give her a fish.”

“Yes,” said the people. “We have fish from the lakes; we shall give the woman a fish.” The woman was given a fish, and she sailed to Have Not Island. Watching her sail away, the people thanked the gods for the wealth of Have Island and pitied the poverty of Have Not Island.  

On the second morning, the people of Have Island were met by the woman in the boat a second time. She said she was hungry and needed help.

The woman was given a fish, but as she ate, the people turned to the priest.

“Priest,” the people whispered, “we know the gods have told us to love mercy, but how long shall we feed this woman? Can she not feed herself?”

Turning from the people to the woman, the priest said, “Woman, we are happy to help you, for the gods have told us to love mercy; however, can you not feed yourself? Have we not given you a fish?”

“Yes, you have given me a fish,” the woman said, “but no, I cannot feed myself, for I do not know how to fish.”

“An easy problem to solve,” the priest said to himself. “The woman does not know how to fish,” the priest said to the people, “so we shall teach her how to fish.”

“Yes,” said the people. “We have nets from the forest; we shall give the woman a net and teach her how to fish.” The woman was given a net, and she sailed to Have Not Island. Watching her sail away, the people thanked the gods for the wealth of Have Island and pitied the poverty of Have Not Island. 

On the third morning, the people of Have Island were met by the woman in the boat a third time. She said she was hungry and needed help.

The woman was given a fish, but as she ate, the people turned to the priest.

“Priest,” the people whispered, “we know the gods have told us to love mercy, but how long shall we feed this woman? Can she not feed herself?”

Turning from the people to the woman, the priest said, “Woman, we are happy to help you, for the gods have told us to love mercy; however, can you not feed yourself? Have we not given you fish and a net?”

“Yes, you have given me fish and a net,” the woman said, “but no, I cannot feed myself, for we have no lakes on Have Not Island.”

“No lakes on Have Not Island?” The priest said to himself. “The woman says they have no lakes on Have Not Island,” the priest said to the people, “so I shall sail to see it.” With the woman, the priest stepped into the boat and sailed to Have Not Island. Watching them sail away, the people thanked the gods for the wealth of Have Island and pitied the poverty of Have Not Island. 

On the third evening, the boat met the beach of Have Not Island. With the woman, the priest stepped out of the boat and followed a river to a dry lakebed. Between the river and the dry lakebed – blocking the water – was a smooth stone.  

“Woman,” the priest asked, “who put the stone here?”

Weeping, the woman pointed to a symbol on the stone: it was the flag of Have Island. “You did,” she answered.

The priest was silent, for he did not know what to say. Weeping, he whispered, “Woman, what shall we do?”

“The gods have told us to love mercy, so you have given me fish and a net,” the woman answered. “And the gods have told us to do justice, so you must help me move the stone, for it is too heavy for me to move alone.”

“Yes,” said the priest, “I must help you move the stone.”

“A hard problem to solve,” the priest said to himself, and he asked for help from the gods, for the stone was too heavy for the woman and the priest to move alone.

The above parable is inspired in part by Justice Matters in Lawrence, KS, who employs a parable to explain their mission. You can read it here.

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