Don't Teach People To Fish, Teach Them To Trust
Several months ago, I decided to delete my Twitter account because I was spending way too much time scrolling through it every day and getting angry at all the ridiculousness I found on it.
I also have some philosophical differences with the new owner of Twitter, so there's that, too.
But before my exodus from the platform, I did see an exchange between two people that amused me so much that I noted it for such a time as this.
The first guy posted a tweet in response to an article on a government program for people stuck in the cycle of poverty that essentially said:
"Jesus taught people to fish. He didn't give them handouts."
To which another guy responded:
"Oh yeah, I forgot the story where Jesus taught 5,000 people to fish so they could feed themselves."
I had to laugh at that whole thing for a couple of reasons. The first guy obviously needed to read the New Testament more carefully.
Jesus never taught anyone to fish. He wasn't a fisherman. In fact, when he gave the disciples advice on fishing, it wasn't a lesson on fishing but a lesson on trust.
Jesus told the disciples in the fishing boat to cast their nets again after they'd been fishing all night and caught nothing. Peter probably sighed before he responded, "Well, you see, we've been fishing all night and haven't caught a thing, but because you say so, I'll do it."
And then they pulled in a haul that was so large it almost broke their nets.
The disciples knew how to fish; they had been doing it most of their lives. They didn't know how to trust, though. Jesus fixed that.
Further, the point of the second guy in that Twitter exchange is well-taken. When Jesus fed the multitudes who had gathered to hear him speak, he was meeting their immediate need, which was hunger and a more profound need, trust.
Both the multitudes and the disciples, who were flummoxed by Jesus' direction to feed everyone, got to experience the rush and joy of having their needs met and their trust in God enlivened.
So what do we learn from this?
The Way of Jesus demands we meet people where they are, and sometimes where they are is in a place of immediate need that needs to be filled before they can learn to trust and begin to find their way again.
And if we ignore their immediate need, we do violence to the Gospel.
James, the brother of Jesus, put it like this in his letter to the Church:
If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
The myth of the American success story is often buoyed by accounts of those who we are led to believe pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, made their way in the world, worked hard, imagined more, and came out on top.
What's missing from those accounts is that, more often than not, they were given a leg up along the way; someone offered them something they would not have attained on their own.
Another hard truth is that in the wealthiest country in the world, millions are living below the poverty line, most of whom have long given up trusting that there is a way out.
You can't pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you're barefooted.
And so, like Jesus, we are called to do everything we can to try and meet the immediate needs of those whose immediate needs keep them from imagining a better life, a good God, and a kinder, gentler world.
This is the Way of Christ. May we live into it with all the love we can muster.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen.