Just started reading a new chapter in Ron Sider’s ‘Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger’ and this parable it begins with is such a brilliant example of the need for Christ followers to be involved in structural change that i wanted to jump on and share it before i read any further:
[From Chapter 9: Structural Change]
‘The present social order is the most abject failure the world has ever seen… Governments have never learned yet how to legislate as to distribute the fruits of the industry of their people. The countries of the earth produce enough to support all, and if the earnings of each was fairly distributed it would make all men toil some, but no man toil too much. This great civilisation of ours has not learned so to distribute the product of human toil so that it shall be equitably held. Therefore, the government breaks down, [C.I. Scofield, author of the Scofield Bible Notes, 1903]]
A group of devout Christians once lived in a small village at the foot of a mountain. A winding, slippery road with hairpin curves and steep precipices without guard rails wound its way up one side of the mountain and down the other. There were frequent fatal accidents. Deeply saddened by the injured people who were pulled from wrecked cars, the Christians in the village’s three churches decided to act. They pooled their resources and purchased and ambulance so that they could rush the injured to the hospital in the next town. Week after week church volunteers gave faithfully, even sacrificially, of their time to operate the ambulance twenty-four hours a day. They saved many lives although some victims remained crippled for life.
Then one day a visitor came to town. Puzzled, he asked why they did not close the road over the mountain and build a tunnel instead. Startled at first, the ambulance volunteers quickly pointed out that this approach (although technically quite possible) was not realistic or advisable. After all, the narrow mountain road had been there for a long time. Besides, the mayor would bitterly oppose the idea. (He owned a large restaurant and service station halfway up the mountain.)
The visitor was shocked that the mayor’s economic interests mattered more to these Christians than the many human casualties. Somewhat hesitatingly, he suggested that perhaps the churches ought to speak to the mayor. After all, he was an elder in the oldest church in town. Perhaps they could even elect a different mayor if he proved stubborn and unconcerned. Now the Christians were shocked. With rising indignation and righteous conviction they informed the young radical that the church dare not become involved in politics. The church is called to preach the gospel and give a cup of cold water. Its mission is not to dabble in worldly things like changing social and political structures.
Perplexed and bitter , the visitor left. As he wandered out of the village, one question churned round and round in his muddled mind. Is it really more spiritual, he wondered, to operate the ambulances which pick up the bloody victims of destructive social structures than to try to change the structures themselves?
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How did that story resonate with you? Are there any present situations that exist in the world today where you think a more purposeful intervention is necessary? What do you think the pastor of your local church would think about this story?
[For another extract from this challenging and necessary book, this time looking at Starving Affluence, click here]