A Discussion on Justice and Generosity: Did “The Little Red Hen” Do the Right Thing?

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The Little Red Hen is a story I occasionally read to my daughter.  The story is one of justice, independence, with a ‘what goes around comes around’ moral.  It is a classical story with four characters – a goose that is a gossip, a cat that is vain, a dog that snoozes life away, and Mrs. Responsible – a red hen that does all the work.  The hen is always busy with the chores of the house and on one occasion the Hen happens upon some grains of wheat.  She seeks the assistance of her less than stellar counterparts all of whom respond to the request, “Who will help plant these grains of wheat?” by saying, “Not, I”.  The Hen is forced to complete the task in isolation.

The cycle is continued when it is time to care for the sprouting seeds and the Hen workers tirelessly by herself.  She waters, weeds, threshes, takes it to the mill, and uses the flour to bake some bread.  At each interval the constantly fatigued friends reply to requests of assistance with the familiar “Not, I”.

But, once the bread was baked the goose, cat, and dog offer to help – to help eat the bread. 

To their desperate request the Hen replies, “I did it all by myself.  Now, I am going to eat it all by myself”.  And the story ends by saying, “And that is exactly what she did”.

And with those words my daughter drifts off to sleep and I contentiously question the moral I have just left with my daughter. 

What then is the moral?

  • You work for YOURSELF.
  • You should not receive anything for which you did not make a CONTRIBUTION.
  • LACK (POVERTY) is always the result of laziness.

Do I really want my daughter to grow up to be like the Little Red Hen?

We’ll yes, in many ways. 

  1. I want her to be able to recognize opportunity.  Just as the Hen saw the seeds I want my daughter to see something in one condition and be able to imagine the potential.  Not just for making a living.  But, I want her to develop that quality in relationships.  To see beauty and potential in people that no one else does.
  2. I want her have a strong work ethic.  Even on hot and sunny days the Red Hen worked.  I think that ethic is essential and godly.  It is a quality that God will be able to use for furthering the work in his kingdom.
  3. I want her to finish what she has started despite the opposition along the way.  Commitment is a dying commodity.  More often than not contracts are broken for better opportunities with no regard to commitment.  The Red Hen started a project and completed it.  I hope one day my daughter will also.

There are kernels of truth in this story, but the story lacks the elements of grace and compassion.  Elements that must always present in the lives of Christians. 

In other ways, I do not want my daughter to be like that Little Red Hen

For some reason I don’t think The Little Red Hen would agree with the Apostle Paul:

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11 NIV)

And if I’m forced to choose between Pauline theology and the sociological musings of a Red Hen, I had better embrace Paul. 

I think we should all remember that the very life we have we do not deserve.  It was given as a free gift. 

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23 NIV)

Am I saying we should always give, without restriction to those who have brought about their fate?

No.  This post talks about ten ways to be sure helping is helping.  However, our responses need to be specific and seasons with grace.  They need not be harsh and dictated.  And yes, on occasion I think God will ask you to help someone who has absolutely no reason to be helped.  So we must be open on those occasions.  The Bible calls that heaping burning coals on someone.  Treating them opposite to how they should be treated is sometimes a powerful way to get their attention.

Participants in sin deserve death.  But recipients of Christ receive life.  That Good News message needs to be the foundation of every decision.  As a result we might even need to offer grace to someone who does not deserve it.  And God will probably ask us to offer grace more times than we wish to imagine.

How do you balance between justice and generosity?

Photo Credit.  Photo by LindaH.


  1. Demolishun says

    At every opportunity Little Red Hen was generous with her cause. However the other animals who refused to help in her cause. She had no reason to share with those who did not contribute to that cause. It only says she consumed it herself, it doesn’t say she didn’t give to the poor and needy. The story is a model for a specific point. Everyone is going to ask to contribute to something some day. People better understand that saying “whoa is me” after the fact is foolish.

    I am an independent business owner and nature of my business is to invite people to be a part of a much larger and prosperous organization. I expect in the next few years people who turned it down (without researching it at all I might add, those who do their research join) I expect to say things like “they were lucky” or “they are rich and should give that money away” or any number of silly things. For them I will suggest they read about the “Little Red Hen”.

    You are right we need to be careful that the models we follow are from Christ. Thanks for bringing that insight to the table.

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