Tuesday, April 18, 2006
It's not fair!  

Probably countless times when we were children, we questioned the justice of some situation and declared to whoever was present at that moment that the situation was just not fair. We were receiving the short end of the stick. We did not appreciate it. And we wanted someone to make the situation right. By declaring that things were not fair, we hoped that the universe through the agency of our parents would tip the balance back in our favor and make things fair.

We would like to think that sometime during our childhood we would learn that much of life simply is not fair, or more accurately, it is not fair according to our selfish understanding of what is fair. However, even as adults, we can get very easily caught up in the fairness of various situations in our lives. We find ourselves again on the wrong side of the scales, and we want someone to correct the injustice.

One thing that is clear from Jesus' teaching is that divine mercy is not fair. At least, it is not fair according to normal human standards. I realized exactly how unfair God is when I recently read the parable of the laborers in St. Matthew's Gospel.
For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, You go into the vineyard too.' And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' So the last will be first, and the first last." Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus makes it clear from the beginning that this is a parable that describes the nature of the kingdom of heaven. God goes out to hire laborers for His vineyard. Some are hired at the beginning of the day and work the entire day for the agreed upon denarius. Others are hired throughout the workday, even until the last hour. When the day is done, the vineyard owner has the men come forward to receive their pay. The last are paid first. They receive the same amount that those who began their work at the beginning of the day were promised. The vineyard owner does this in front of all the workers to demonstrate his generosity. However, it is lost on those who have worked all day. Instead, similar to what would be my reaction, they note the unfairness of the identical payments. But God is not moved by such pleas for justice. His justice is to be generous and give more than would be expected.

Early Church Fathers such as Origen have commented on how the image of the vineyard should lead us to recognize how God began his work of salvation through Israel. The Israelites have borne the burden of the labor in God's vineyard. It is only late in the day that the Gentiles have been grafted in to work in the vineyard of the Lord. The late arrival of the Gentiles is no matter to God. He will freely give to all who are willing to labor for Him.

We can also recognize God's mercy in that He always leaves open the door for those who have yet to come to Him. It might be late in a person's life, even at the hour of death, but God's mercy is open to receive even such a latecomer. It might not seem fair to the ones who have labored for the Lord lo these many years. But that is because we do not understand God's idea of fairness. He is fair to all those who come to Him. He grants them the reward of eternal life as payment for their willingness to stop being idle and to begin to work in His vineyard, even if were only for one hour.

Posted by David at 7:43 AM  |  Comments (0)  | 


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