But the one thing we can all agree – all faiths, all ideologies – is that God is with the vulnerable and the poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunities and lives, and God is with us if we are with them…
This is not about charity in the end, is it? It’s about justice…I just want to repeat that: This is not about charity, it’s about justice. And that’s too bad. Because we’re good at charity…We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.
But justice is a higher standard.
Typically, “service” has been interpreted as works of mercy and charity; now we are expanding our emphasis on service to include works of justice. Both are good; both are essential in our culture and in our development as individuals and as the Body of Christ.
About eight years ago I heard what is widely known as “The Babies in the River Story” to explain the difference between works of charity or mercy and works of justice. Two persons see a baby in the river and rush in to rescue her. To their dismay, this baby is followed by another. Then another and another. In each case the two people from the bank of the river dive in to save the babies. Finally, one person does not rush back into the river but heads upstream instead. Her partner asks, “Where are you going? I need help rescuing these babies!” To which she replies, “I am going to find out what’s happening at the headwaters of the river, where the babies are coming from. We need to change what’s happening up there that is putting the babies in danger to begin with.”
That simple parable has taught many persons the difference between acts of mercy and acts of justice. Another explanation has been attributed to the founder of the Tao, Lao Tzu: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Both the story and the Lao Tzu quote recognize the importance of caring for individuals. In the Gospel of Matthew, (chapter 25) Jesus tells his followers and all who would listen that whatever they do for “one of the least of these,” they do for him.
We are called to care for the least and the lost, those who are unable on their own to cover their basic needs. Caritas, Mobile Loaves & Fishes, Feed My People, Interfaith Hospitality Network, ASP, C2K, Mission to Mission are some of the ministries that we support with our time, our energy, our resources. And in addition to giving of ourselves to these and other works of mercy and charity (love), we believe we are called to works of justice, to go “upriver” to discover the reasons why the homeless are homeless, why the hungry are hungry, why the working poor may hold two jobs but still not have enough money–a living wage–to care for a family of three or four. That’s why we find ourselves in meetings with Austin Interfaith or Texas Impact or the Austin District’s Amos Commission, exploring the issue of homelessness or poverty, or standing with those who have no voice in our system as they ask to be heard in places of power.
— Rev. Mimi Raper