This Gospel lesson can be challenging for those who are concerned about fairness.
It seems to be saying us that God is not always fair.
The Gospel story is simple: Jesus describes a hiring process. Some workers are hired early, some at mid-day, some in the afternoon, and some just before quitting time. At the end of the day, they were all paid the same wage.
Those who had worked all day, even though they agreed upon the day’s wage, felt that they should be paid more than those who had worked only part of the day.
But the employer said, “You all agreed to the wage before it was paid;” and more significantly, “it’s my money and if I want to pay everyone the same thing, I can.”
From this we learn that, maybe God might not always be fair in our eyes.
I’d like to believe that, rather than focusing on being fair, God is lavish.
And I, for one am so glad that God is not just about being fair.
If God were fair and gave me what I truly deserve,
My life would be very different today.
I often need to remind myself that thankfully God doesn’t work that way.
We “deserve nothing, it is all by God’s grace
I think about the words we heard from Romans a few weeks ago
Hate what is evil
Hold fast to what is good
Love one another
Show hospitality to strangers
Bless those who persecute you – wish them no harm
Live in harmony
Don’t think haughty of ourselves
Then, that same week we heard to words from Mathew
Don’t set yourself on human things, but on heavenly things
Take up your Cross and follow me
And today in our New Testament reading from Philippians we heard
“Live your life in a manor worthy of the Gospel of Christ”
If you remember those few weeks ago, in my case – based on just these standouts – I’m really glad that God isn’t focused on being fair, because I fall far short on so many of these points and I am batting below 500.
But fairness seems to be a high ethical stance in today’s society.
Some would even choose fairness over lavish love.
Children see fairness as the standard. They are especially keen on fairness if they believe that they have been treated unfairly.
All who are parents are familiar with the cry of outrage, “That’s not fair!”
All good parents have a set of responses to this statement that they heard from their parents. – funny, how things just keep going and going over the ages and just never change.
Children and I may add adults seldom raise the issue of fairness when they are being favored. In fact, almost none of us raise the issue of fairness when we are being favored or privileged, when things are going our way.
I think of playing a friendly game of knee hockey with our seven year old grandson Max. Out of the blue, he checks me, steels the puck and scores a goal. He is shouting in glory of the great goal he just scored.
Two minutes later, I give him a hip check, steel the puck and score. He again yells, but this time he yells, “hey, that’ not fair, no goal, you checked me”.
OK – I get it….
On a more serious note, sometimes we experience sickness, death, unequal pay, discrimination, lack of material possessions, financial issues that seem so different than what others seem to have.
We can become jealous, anxious, envious, and angry with them, ourselves and God.
I’m a good person, I work hard, and I’m honest.
I try to do all the right things
“That’s not fair”
We can go down that road – we can feel and dwell on those feelings, or we can take the Jesus “approach”, of forgiving, loving and being supportive to others in each situation.
I’d like to ask us some questions to open our minds and our hearts on fairness.
Just to challenge us a bit. – We, may not like these questions.
Is it fair that someone gets to come to this country and gain things that our ancestors who came did not?
Is it fair that some people are born into poverty and for whatever reason are not able to pull themselves out?
Is it fair that one child is born with a disability, while so many others are fully healthy?
Is it fair that someone who has lived a mischievous life and on their death bed receives forgiveness, while we who seemingly in our minds follow the rules, follow God our whole life and get the same?
That just don’t seem fair does it?
Jesus invites us to move beyond fairness and into boundless love. The kind of love Jesus calls us to is, grounded in is his sacrificial love. The love he showed us on the cross.
Suffering preceded Jesus’ death.
And I think we would all agree that Jesus’ death was unfair.
But that awful death became the door to Resurrection for Jesus and us.
Through Jesus’ Resurrection we can see and start to get the the meaning of suffering, injustice, and unfairness.
Jesus, the guy who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, forgave the sinner, the guy with the perfect batting average was humiliated, beaten, spat upon and crucified – you want to talk about fairness?
Rather than wine like a baby about how unfair life can be, let’s look at how Jesus responded to unfairness.
On his deathbed in the process of death, the thief on the cross, said to Jesus, “remember me, when you come into your kingdom”.
Jesus told him, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.”
Jesus said to God the father about those who were killing him, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
Both of Jesus’ statements are signs of God’s lavish love for us.
So, again. I’m so glad God is unfair
So, when life treats us unfairly, remember the love that God has given us lavishly.
Remember that here, in this place, the place that we worship in together, is a place of God’s lavish love. A place where God loves us all, where God is present, where God gives to each of us the promise of everlasting life.
Remember that God surrounds us with each other, and that’s pretty fair, because we to can do what we want with our gifts, just as the landowner did with his. We can choose to give our love to all that need it.
So, with that said,
When someone or life treats you unfairly, and it will happen, do something to make those who treat you unfairly feel really crazy — forgive them and share with them the love you have lavishly received.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan