Remember the story in the Golden Book series about the red hen who begins the arduous process of planting, growing,harvesting and preparing the wheat to make bread? Along the way she asks for help from various animals who, for no apparent good reason, decline to help her in her work? In the end she, with a great deal of snark, asks if anyone would like to share the finished product…the other animals who refused help finally chime in, and in perfect self justification, the hen says no and keeps the finished product all to herself. A simple story about the results of hard work and who should enjoy the spoils of said work.
I think there are two important issues here. The first, the bearing of fruit is rooted in hard work. Yes, I see the pun, but it still rings true. Often times we are so focused on the end result that we disregard the effort it takes to bring something good to fruition. The second important issue for me, and one that the red hen while perhaps justified personifies, is the belief that the lines are clear between who deserves the fruit of labor and who does not. I wish life were as simple as portrayed in the story, but the lines drawn between who deserves the fruits of labor and who does not are absolutely not clear, and it is a trap we as Americans have fallen into and largely what the last election was predicated on. It is also runs contrary to everything I’ve learned in scripture.
I get it, why give the other animals any bread after they refuse to help? There are a host of potential reasons that could mitigate why the dog, cat and duck refused to help: poor health, exhaustion from helping out in another situation, a lack of understanding what to do, secret yearning to be rid of the hen, or a multitude of other reasons, many of which can also be bad. The reasons are infinite. One would have to be interested in why, but due to the job that the hen wanted done, concern for why the other animals refused to help wasn’t part of her need or plan at the time. She had work to do to accomplish her goal, and that can be a good thing. I, personally, see a lot of myself in that red hen, as I’m sure most people do. The problem arises when the work is finished and the choice is made how to share. Just taking a moment to understand the other animals could have made a huge difference in her choice.
I eat plenty of bread that I had nothing to do with making. I get to share in many fruits of others where I played absolutely no part in their creation. I drive on roads, attended schools, share in new technologies that enlisted no help from me at all. Of course, I’ve paid a price for many of these things, but many I have not. I’m lucky enough to be the beneficiary of a host of fruit that I personally paid nothing for at all and had little if anything to do in their creation. If I’m truly humble about it, there have also been times when I’ve been asked to help and I may have appeared like one of those animals in the story, and yet I still received the benefit of the final fruit. The actual foundation of my faith is rooted in the greatest freebie of all: eternal life by the sacrifice of Christ.
Yet on the other side of the coin I know with great certainty that there are plenty of people out there who have benefited from my hard work, who either don’t have a clue, or were happy for me to do the work for them. In all truth, there are moments, like the red hen, where I don’t want to share, but they are far and few between because challenged by the words of the Gospel and my faith, I choose to go beyond initial judgments and dig deeper into the people who seem to want something for nothing. Walking in someone’s shoes strips initial judgments away, and almost always I learn my initial assessment is either off, at least triggered my compassion. In some cases, delving deeper into who the people are who actually extended the hand of help to me actually exposed a more corrupt character than initially presented and who turned out had far more nefarious reasons for helping, and I’ve escaped harm from them too.
I guess the point I’m making is two-fold, you can’t bypass hard work in bearing good fruit because the end result isn’t the same. Secondly, the decision regarding who should benefit from the fruit of that effort is never black and white. It is a difficult balance, I acknowledge that, but when you spend a bit more time on actually seeing and knowing the people who surround you and being grateful for the fruit that others bring to the table the shift is powerful. Sharing a gift hard fought without measuring the worthiness of who benefits can be life transforming too.