It’s Not Fair!

April 23, 2014 • Category: Parables of Jesus

Today’s scripture: Matthew 20:1-16 (NRSV) (The Message) (KJV) What might God be saying to me?

My thoughts (Brent Walsh):

“It’s not fair!” This common complaint is one we most often associate with children bickering about who gets to sit in the front seat more often, or who gets the bigger serving of ice cream, or who gets to stay up an hour later on a school night. Fairness is something we learn to insist upon from our earliest years on this earth, and it is not something that very many of us outgrow. No matter how many times people tell us, “Life isn’t fair,” something deep inside us refuses to accept it. “An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work,” we say. And if you work more than other people, you should be paid more. Its only fair.

In Matthew 20:1-16 we read a parable about a landowner who hires workers to tend his vineyard. No matter what time he hires them, he pays them all the same at the end of the day. Understandably the people who started working in the morning were not enthusiastic about receiving the same amount of pay as the people who had only gotten there an hour before it was time to go home! “It’s not fair!” they said, to which the landowner replied, “Tough. You agreed to this amount of money when I hired you, and that’s what you received. Stop complaining and go home.”

So what can we learn from this ancient parable? Many modern congregations have members like Marvin Rutherford, a man who has attended and supported his church for thirty years, serving on committees, visiting the sick, taking casseroles to the grieving, mowing the grass, singing in the choir, and even scrubbing toilets on Saturday afternoons. The church has survived, and even thrived, on the backs of Marvin and a few other faithful saints for longer than some congregants have even been alive. But then some whippersnappers come along with their bright ideas and boundless energy and try to do away with tradition. A few changes are fine, says Marvin, especially if they bring more friendly faces through the door. But these young people think that attending church for a couple of years entitles them to start making decisions and meddling with the way things are done around here. “There are a hundred ways to clean a kitchen,” he says, “unless you’re in my mother’s kitchen.” And to top it off, they all want to take equal credit for the successful ministry of the church. Who do they think they are to act as if they should get equal credit for only a few years of work compared to Marvin’s thirty?

This world is full of people who fight long and hard for something, only to have someone else come along just before the big payout and get equal credit for everything. Some nonprofit organizations have been raised up on the backs of a few visionaries and then burst forth with major progress only after a new leader steps forward to share in all the credit. The battle for civil rights for minority groups plods along for years, pushing through miles of red tape and endless defeats, only to find momentum at the eleventh hour when a hoard of new faces are vying for camera time to claim victory on the courthouse steps. It’s not fair. And to twist the knife a little more, we all know that it will never be fair.

Instead of fairness being our goal, let us instead aim for grace. As long as the work is getting done, let us be generous with the credit. Many people, who set out to make a difference in their communities, their states, their world, do so without the expectation of fair credit in the end. The only expectation is that the world will be a better place for all their effort.

Thought for the day: “When you’ve . . . walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” ~ Michelle Obama

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.