One weekend a year in November, the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge opens to the public. My wife and I ferried the three miles out to see the island on one of the many boats chartered by locals. After roaming the lighthouse, we started toward a pathway that led down to a beach. But at the head of the footpath was a sign: “Watch out for poisonous snakes.”
That was the end of it for my wife. I couldn't talk her into taking another step, but she encouraged me to go ahead. So I did and was rewarded by a pristine, unmolested white beach filled with elegant sculptures of driftwood.
When I returned, my wife was talking to a Park Ranger. She had asked, “What’s the story about the poisonous snakes?” I overheard the ranger explain that the north end of the key was a bird sanctuary and breeding grounds. Apparently a long time ago, someone had discarded poisonous snakes on the island. Nicknamed “white snakes” because they took up residence under the bird nests, these predators multiplied rapidly because of the steady, dependable food supply of young birds unlucky enough to fall out of their nests.
The analogy to the human world is striking. Our world is filled with predators ready to devour anyone unlucky to fall out of their nest.
Question: If you wanted to make a difference, would it be better to catch the ones who are falling, or to build better nests so they don’t fall out in the first place? It is a false dilemma. It’s like asking, would Jesus prefer mercy and healing ministry over teaching and equipping ministry? Both are forms of discipleship. We need both.
Birds, and people, are always going to fall out of their nests. We need to catch them. We need mercy and justice ministries to heal the broken wings. But unless we also teach people how to build better nests, just as many will be falling out in 20 years. Let’s catch those who are falling, but let’s also disciple those who are willing how to build better nests.