After reading “The Little Red Hen” together my eldest daughter asked, “Why isn’t the Little Red Hen sharing? Isn’t she being mean?” This is a natural question since we speak often of the importance of sharing with one another. Besides, I always feed my the kids even though they don’t help me cook. We talked about how important it is to help one another when we are cleaning up and that if someone doesn’t help (or dumps the toys out right after we pick them up) it can be frustrating. But of course, we shouldn’t just try to get back at people for being irritating. If that’s the moral of “The Little Red Hen” then it isn’t a very helpful story at all. However, the the Apostle Paul seems to teach a similar principle in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
Paul writes, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-16)
Paul wants to promote peace – he serves the “Lord of peace” and yet he encourages the Thessalonians to avoid those people who are “not busy at work, but busybodies.” How can this be peaceful? Is it peaceful when the Little Red Hen sits down to her meal without Duck et al? How will her private feast make them feel and what will it prompt them to do? Is this merely the prelude to a farmyard vengeance-cycle epic?
In his first as well as his second letter Paul has explained that Christ is coming again. Some people in the church took this to mean that they should quit their jobs and just wait. This didn’t turn out so well – they kept expecting other people to feed them while they waited. Paul warned them that Christ wouldn’t be pleased to come back and find his people idling about. This is God’s good creation and he has good work for us to do here. Some of the good work he has for us to do is to feed the hungry and care for the sick. When we work, we have something to give those people who truly are in need.
Paul urged the Thessalonians to work hard just as he had worked when he had lived with them. He hadn’t been dependent on them. He supported himself with his tent-making business. He was able to give to them because he had a dependable job. Remember also that during Paul’s travels he was collecting funds for those Christians in Jerusalem who were being persecuted by the Jews and were having difficulty making ends meet.
There is a difference between someone who is hungry because they are unable to feed themselves and someone who doesn’t want to work. In his first letter he urges, “Admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14) When someone is hungry we shouldn’t just walk by and say, “I’ll pray for you.” The Apostle James calls that empty religion. Instead we should be discerning. Are they idle? Urge them to work. Are they faint-hearted or weak? Encourage them. Most of all be patient. This part has me thinking of my own children who have a million excuses not to work. I need to encourage them and be patient.
So perhaps the Little Red Hen has a point. It’s not helpful to feed lazy people. They will grow dependent and the Little Red Hen has only limited resources to give. It’s not that it’s wrong to have dependents but the goal is to encourage dependents to be independent so that they too can care for others. Perhaps, however, the Little Red Hen could have been more charitable in her refusal. Perhaps the story is a bit flawed to begin with since there is only one good industrious person among a slew of lazy folks. It makes it look as if we can be industrious and happy by ourselves.
What are your thoughts on this story? Does it need some revisions or is it sound?
I drew the characters in permanent marker on water color paper and then gave my children water colored pencils. When they had finished with those I gave them water colors, brushes and water. This combination of steps kept them all busy for a good amount of time. Instead of brushes and water I gave my two year old wet cotton balls to prevent spills. It’s not so much the spills as the constant tears after the spills that impede creativity. 🙂