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The Ant and the Elephant: A Poverty Parable


One day, after a number of years observing each other’s lives, the ant and the elephant struck up a conversation. The curious elephant began by asking the ant: ‘How is it that you seem to work so hard and yet have so little to show for it?’

‘Ah’, replied the ant ‘that is easy: I was not born with your advantages! Otherwise, we are not so different, you and I. We are both creatures, we both work hard – indeed, we both have “ant” in our name! But I do not have your tusks to knock down trees, your trunk to lift them, nor your mighty legs to carry me such giant distances in a single stride. But neither do I consume the great volume of resources that you do, to keep me going. So I have a question for you: Why is it that you elephants consume such vast resources and have such great powers, yet you do not lift your mighty trunk to help us ants? Are we not both creatures, you and I? Imagine just how much your own mighty strength would help me!’

‘Ah’, said the elephant. ‘That too is easy. As you say, I consume much and I therefore rely heavily on the food my masters give me. Mighty as I may appear to be to you, I remain a slave to them. If I cease their work to do yours, who then will feed me?’ This response puzzled the ant, who replied: ‘But I am not asking you to abandon your masters and help me all the time; only for a tiny fraction of what you have spare. What may seem a little help to you, will make a world of difference to me.’

sermon illustration on poverty, ant and elephant

The elephant pondered this, lost in thought for a long time. Finally, he asked the ant: ‘But if I do as you say, which of you shall I help? I can see that you are not alone. If I am to help only a little, how will I know what to do and who to do it for? Why should I favour you among so many?’

At this, the ant laughed heartily, for the elephant’s reasoning seemed entirely alien to him, as one used to living for his colony. ‘I have an idea’, he eventually replied. ‘Let us agree to do this. I have lived and laboured many years before ever meeting you and if you go your way today, I will live and labour many more without you. If I had been born an elephant like you, this is what I would consider fair. With my limited resources as an ant, I can offer you little in return, except my deepest gratitude as a fellow creature. But start today by helping me. Should you later come across a more needy, or deserving ant than I, I will understand if you favour them over me. At least then, when you meet them, you will already be in the habit of helping ants. For neither can you help us all, nor can you help us not-at-all!’

…And so say we all.

Whether ant or elephant, we thank you once more for being…

One in a Billion!