Fairness… We all have our own ideas regarding fairness, don’t we?
“It’s not fair… That gas cost more in LaGrange, than it does in West Point!”
“It’s not fair… that my sister can get away with anything, but one little slip-up and mom and dad throw the book at me.”
“It’s not fair… I’ve got the worst teacher in the whole school!”
“It’s not fair… I have to teach the worst class in the whole school!”
“It’s just not fair…” There is always something about life that’s not fair.
None of us, of course, have ever said or thought anything like that, right? We’ve never complained about the unfairness of life?
Of course, the fact of the matter is, most of us are pretty good at complaining about our perceived unfairness... myself included.
God’s people, the Israelites, who were fresh off being delivered from slavery in Egypt, were already complaining. In fact, the Bible says, “the whole congregation of Israel was complaining!” They wished they could’ve died back in Egypt, where they at least had something to eat. God had literally delivered the Israelites from bondage, set them free from their captors... but their celebration and gratitude were short-lived.
In our second scripture lesson, Jesus tells us a story, about a Vineyard owner… Who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his fields. And after agreeing to the daily wage, he sent them out to work.
And all throughout the day, he came back to the marketplace, and he hired more workers… At 9 o’clock, noon, and 3 o’clock, he hired more. Then, at 5 o’clock, when the workday was beginning to wind down, he found even more workers who had not been hired… So we hired them and put them to work in his Vineyard as well. And when the workday came to an end, those hired last were paid first… receiving an entire days wage. They had only worked for maybe an hour, but they were paid the same as those who had labored through the heat of the day. And so as we might expect, the workers hired earlier in the day, begin to complain. Our scripture says they “grumbled” against the Vineyard owner.
And the truth is, we can relate… We understand. Because it’s just not fair to pay someone who’s worked eight or nine times as long the same pay as someone who’s worked just a few minutes. It reeks of unfairness.
But I’m pretty sure, when we begin to point out unfairness, it’s partly, because we feel like we are the early morning workers. Were the ones who been responsible… The ones who’ve worked long hours, and kept things running - when few others would. We’re the ones who stuck with the church through thick and thin… The ones who get up on Sunday mornings, early, and go to Sunday school, choir practice... and who “grin and bare it” as we endure that long winded preacher!
One of my preaching professors back in my seminary days, was Fred Craddock. Dr. Craddock told a story that may put this parable into perspective for us. Imagine yourself as the only child of your parents, but when you’re 17 years old, they adopt a seventeen year old brother for you. And when you both turn 18, your father says at breakfast one morning, “I’ve just had the lawyer draw up papers. I’m leaving the family business to our two sons.” How do you suppose you’d feel about that? Most of us would think it unfair.
Again, most of us relate to the early morning workers. And we know how seemingly unfair life can be. But if you think about the story, and what actually took place… The early morning workers agreed on a wage with the Vineyard owner, and they were paid that wage. They all gave an honest days work, and were given an honest days pay. There’s nothing in the world unfair about that.
Of course, if you consider “the rest of the story” (like Paul Harvey used to say), then you might come to the conclusion, that picking laborers, back in Jesus day was a lot like choosing teams at a game of kick-ball or softball when you were a kid. The team leader always chose the fastest, the biggest, the most athletic kids, first… Leaving the slower, shorter, less athletic kids for last, right? If those hiring always took the very best available workers early in the day, who do you suppose will be left at 5 o’clock? I think it stands to reason, that the least skilled, and the least employable… Maybe those who were older, sicker - maybe those who physically couldn’t work all day were still there later in the day.
So, maybe the owner of the vineyard chose to pay all the workers equally because all had an equal need. Those who couldn’t get hired, the ones still there at 5 o’clock… still had families to feed… They still had responsibilities… And they were still there, waiting for, longing for... the chance to work.
Sometimes this type of thing actually happens in the life of the church. Sometimes people who have been around while, and have invested their time, their talents, their treasure… into the life of the church... can become possessive, to the point that they see any other ideas, any, new... or late additions, as being threats. We’ve actually had that happen here, at our church, on occasion.
Instead of saying, every gifting is valuable, instead of seeing every person of worth... as being able to contribute, to take part… to bear the same responsibility, regardless, to how long they’ve been here, is sometimes too much for some.
And on the other hand, there are people who haven’t been here very long, who are timid to step up to the plate… They don’t feel like they’ve earned the right to participate, fully, because they have only been here a short while.
And both ideas miss the mark.
Of course, our scripture lessons for today challenge the whole idea of unfairness.
Kind of like the cab driver, and the preacher, who arrived at the pearly gates at the same time. Saint Peter personally escorted them both to their mansions. But the cab driver got a much nicer mansion than the preacher. And the preacher complained, it’s unfair… I preached for 40 years, in some of the largest and most influential churches of my denomination! Saint Peter said, “yes you did... but while you preached people slept... and as the cab driver drove, people prayed.”
The good news is, even in this little joke, the preacher in the cab driver, both made it to the same place.
We say, “that’s not fair” - we complain about the unfairness of it all... but then fairness is just another word for justice... and justice demands that we all get what we deserve. And we know what we deserve.
I thank God that he doesn’t give me what I truly deserve.
It’s not about fairness. Life never has been, and never will be fair.
What we really need, is Grace.
And when you and I begin to truly understand and appreciate, the concept of God‘s grace, as applied to every area of our lives… We begin to understand the wonderful unfairness of it all.
Sent from my iPhone