If we grant that we are again on the precipice of one of the worst farming, fish and food crises in human history, we might still wish to take comfort and insight from the parables of Jesus about such a crisis during his all-to-brief gallop through Galilee.
But how can they still relevant two thousand years after that street preacher, field preacher and beach preacher first let them loose on our lonely planet?
Here are four educated guesses on that possibility:
- The parables express deep compassion for the farmworkers, sheepherders, farmers and fishers caught in a shift to a globalized economy of moving commodities—as if food were only tradable calories and not intrinsically sacred. Thus both the workers themselves and their harvest are restored dignity and sanctity, so that they can be truly valued by society.
- Whenever the parables make a critique, it is not so much of the behavior of a single work foreman, plantation owner, or harbor manager. Instead, it shows how we are all oppressed and thrown off kilter by an impersonal, globalized system that works against care for creation. The problem is not individual villain, but structural racism, classism, sexism and the undervaluing of nature’s gifts. Jesus lifts those people and products up and changes the dialogue about them.
- The parables ask listeners to take the long view, to keep their eyes on the prize and do not sweat the small stuff. There will be failures, losses and insults along the way to re-envisioning a just food system, but we need to band together to keep from feeling disempowered individually.
- Through humor, irony and expression of awe, wonderment and inspiration, Jesus gives workers in the food system “the cultural antibodies” to fend off the pandemic of Greco-Roman globalization. His first goal is to help each individual and community reach a place of health, gratitude and confidence that they have access to hidden treasures that they will need along the way, so that their kinship can hold them together over the long haul.
These are the kinds of insights that have helped guide the amazing struggles and successes gifted to our country by the likes of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Martin Luther King and John Lewis over this last century.