But it isn’t fair!

Published 9:07 am Friday, September 16, 2011

Across the Pastor’s Desk

By the Rev. Ken Jensen, retired pastor

How many times have we not heard our children cry out, “But, it isn’t fair! Johnny’s piece of cake is bigger than mine!” “Why does Sally get to ride in the front seat more than I?” “How come the Petersen kids get to stay up until 10 p.m. and I have to go to bed at 9? It isn’t fair!”

Unfortunately, we fail to outgrow our childhood reasoning. “It isn’t fair that the wealthiest Americans pay an effective tax rate of 17 percent while I pay over 25 percent!” “It isn’t fair low income people pay no income tax!” Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.

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The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) is about fairness in juxtaposition to how God appears to be unfair. At 6 a.m., the owner of the vineyard goes to the street comer where the day laborers hang out. He employs several workers for an agreed amount based upon the standard wage for the day.

For whatever reason, the landowner failed to hire sufficient laborers to do the job. So, he returned at 9 a.m. to hire additional workers, then again at noon and at 3 p.m. At 5 p.m. he returned to the street comer and hired still more people.

When it came time to pay his employees, the owner first paid the employees who worked one hour moving up on the time sheet until he finally paid those last who had labored all day. Guess what? Regardless of the hours worked, everyone was paid the same …a full day’s wage!

Those who had worked 12 hours were ticked off: “These men who worked only one hour you made equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.” In other words, “It isn’t fair!”

In reality, those who labored all day got what they had agreed upon. They received what they deserved. As day laborers they could have gone home with nothing at the end of the day had they not been hired. Nevertheless, they chose to feel sorry for themselves since they did not receive a bonus.

The parable speaks to the 20 percent in the worship community who complain about the 80 percent who are able but contribute less of themselves. If God were fair, shouldn’t those who do more receive a special blessing or bonus ?

In addition, it reminds us of our tendency to covet what God chooses to give to others be it good looks, better health, more intelligence, greater wealth, an influential family, etc. If God were fair, shouldn’t we all have the same gifts, opportunities and abilities?

In reality, God is more interested in grace than fairness. Grace, the undeserved forgiveness, goodness and mercy of God, often overrules what seems fair to us.

Just as parents treat their children differently because each child’s needs differ, so God treats those whom he loves differently. The crux of the parable is about coveting and our frustration with the grace of God as it applies not to us, but to others.