I do not have to tell you that life isn’t fair… but I will say it anyway: “Life isn’t fair!”
“It’s not fair!”
In one way or another each of hear this plaint on a daily basis: “Why did they get the promotion?” “Why did they raise the price?” Why was my son taken from me? ”Why, after all I have done for her, is my daughter rebelling?” “Why can’t I find suitable work?” “Why now?” “Why him?” “Why me?”
The fairness ‘question’ typically begins with “Why” and often ends with “This sucks!”
The Scriptures talk a lot about fairness. In fact, fairness is front and center in many accounts, both in the Old and the New Testament. The book of Leviticus delineates what God considers to be appropriate boundaries for his priests and for the common Israelite. These instructions included just and fair weights for measuring grain and for all commercial activity. Boundaries and fairness, man’s negotiating with another man, are bound together within the scrolls of all Scripture. What is also revealed in Scripture is God’s ‘fairness’ – better defined as God’s sovereignty, his prerogatives, his grace.
Consider the oldest book of the Bible, the book of Job. Humans will ask “Did Job get a fair shake from God?” At the end of the narrative you may think Job did. A seven-fold return on Job’s weaker-by-the-moment faithfulness investment yielded Job great benefits – a new family and many material gains. More importantly, though, Job received an understanding of the Almighty via great depths of sorrow from the many losses he incurred beforehand. Job’s bowl of humanity had been scooped out by great sorrow only to be refilled with God’s greater joy. Maybe fairness needs God’s wristwatch and his perfect 20/20 vision to be understood.
Job’s wife wanted Job to “curse God and die” because (implying)…“You know, God-isn’t fair. Job abstained and basically said to her, “Get behind me Satan.”
Now, let’s consider the account of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph, the 11th of Jacob’s 12 sons and Rachel’s firstborn, received a beautiful garment from his father –a token of a father’s love, of multi-colored grace. Perhaps the gift was a thanksgiving offering given towards the Abrahamic covenant’s fulfillment-our sacrificial Lamb of God yet to be conceived.
Though the older brothers all anticipated some fraction of a vast inheritance once their father Jacob passed they became envious of Joseph and the immediate: “Why did Joseph, that little punk, get that gift from dad? “I never got anything like that from dad. Everyday we take care of father’s land and flocks (one day theirs) and Joseph is lying about at home or sitting on dad’s knee. “We have to eat sheep jerky and stale bread. Joseph gets fresh bread, kabobs and dates…yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.
Let’s go another layer deeper into the envy of Joseph.
Jacob had every right to give Joseph whatever he so desired. Pop psychology will tell you that a father should be across the board fair with his kids. This is where we now talk about fairness and boundaries. Fairness is to be equal in its application of justice. Boundaries are to be agreed upon by all parties involved.
A father should set even-handed rules for his kids-Leviticus fashion. Each of the kids should know the father’s rules. The punishment for rule infractions should be known-the boundaries set. Kids need to bump up against a strong barrier. This is fairness and good psychology.
Beyond the fair ground ‘rules’ a father can do whatever he wants to love his children. Again, popular psychology gets paid to listen to people chirping during a fifty minute session about unfair parents.
A father can give his child whatever his heart desires. It’s his prerogative. And, Joseph’s brothers should have rejoiced for their brother. Instead, they let envy take its course.
Envy is bound by “It’s not fair!” and then some. Love is not bound by fairness, except in God given universality – “God So Loved the World…”
Fast forward: today’s liturgical reading from Matthew 20:1-16
“So you see,” Jesus continued, “the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed with the workers to give them a dinar a day, and sent them off to his vineyard.
He went out again in the middle of the morning, and saw some others standing in the marketplace with nothing to do.
“You too can go to the vineyard, “ he said, “ and I’ll give what’s right. So off they went.
He went out again about midday, and in the middle of the afternoon, and did the same. Then, with only an hour of the day left, he went out and found people standing there.
“Why are you standing here all day with nothing to do? He asked them.
“Because no one has hired us, they replied.
“Well”, he said, “you too can go into the vineyard.”
When evening came, the vineyard-owner said to his servant, “Call the workers and give them their pay. Start with last, and go on to the first.”
“So the ones who had worked for one hour came, and each of them received a dinar. When the first ones came, they thought they would get something more; but they, too, each received a dinar.
“When they had been given it, they grumbled against the land owner. “This lot who came in last, “ they said, “have only worked for one hour-and they’ve been put on a level with us! And we did all the hard work, all day, and in the heat as well!”
“My friend,” he said to one of them, I’m not doing you wrong. You agreed with me on one dinar, didn’t you? Take it! It’s yours! And be on your way. I want to give this fellow who came at the end the same as you. Or, are you suggesting that I’m not allowed to do what I like with my own money? Or are you giving me the evil eye because I’m good?”
“So those at the back will be front, and the front ones at the back.”
Jesus has given us his father’s perspective about what is fair, the parable not unlike Joseph’s gift or God’s eternal covenants with Abraham and David-with you and me. Fairness in this life requires God’s eternal perspective.
If everything in life is to be fair from man’s temporal perspective ala equal outcomes and social justice’s “egalitarianism” (a fancy sounding word for Communism), then how do you know when you are loved?. And, the gift of grace, will you know it when it comes knocking at your front door or when it prepares a lavish feast just for you (see Babette’s Feast)?
What about the pull and tug of romance? Equal outcomes like vampires suck the life blood out romance. Everyone should get a ‘fair’ chance at ‘life’. Right? Romance is far and away more about the struggle of life itself than about the dynamics between a man and a woman. You get that.
Fair enough. Let this sink in. Take the dinar for one-half hour’s listening and we’ll talk later
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” The apostle Paul