God’s Sense of Fairness
Wednesday of Trinity 18 (A-Prop. 20)
Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-14, 19-30; Matthew 20:1-16
“That’s not right!” “It’s just not fair!” How many times we’ve heard and said those words, or words much like them! We have a pretty good sense of fairness, of justice, of right and wrong – or so we tell ourselves. But what do we do when our sense of fair play butts heads with God’s? What do we do when we lock horns with God over things we think are right and just?
After all, our first reading reminds us that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And if we want to talk about fairness, how fair was it that St. Paul served time in prison, and had to write his letter to the Philippian church from prison, just for confessing Jesus Christ and His Gospel of life and forgiveness? And what about that Gospel reading? A master pays all of his servants a whole day’s wage, even though only a minority of them actually worked the whole day? How fair is that—those who worked only one hour, let alone three, or six, or nine hours, received a whole day’s pay for twelve hours of work?
We often turn our sense of fair play loose on tragedies and circumstances in life. How fair is it that so many people had to flee for their lives and end up losing so much when Hurricane Ike smashed into Texas? Or when it’s remnants caused flooding in our area two weekends ago? It’s just not fair, we say, that some companies have recently crashed and burned as they’ve gone broke, but some of their CEOs float away in “golden parachutes” of millions of dollars. Or perhaps we look at the things we must endure individually and cry, “Not fair; not right!” Perhaps we focus on an illness we have or that a loved one has. Perhaps we want to defend our children or our spouse or our friend from unfair treatment. The list could go on.
What should we do? Maybe we should reexamine and reevaluate our sense of fairness and our notions of right and wrong.
I remember when I was a young lad and I would do one of those five-point headstands. You know, when both hands and both feet are on the floor, but so is your head and you’re looking upside down at things in the living room. Or I might do one of those hanging off the edge of the couch moves. You know, when your legs and backside are on the couch cushion, but your head hangs down, upside down, almost touching the floor. When I would do such silly things, I also remember thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could walk on the ceiling?” There was only one problem with that, or so I thought. When we had to go through a doorway, we’d have to really step up high to avoid the real top of the door.
Now, of course, that sounds silly, and it was. After all, I was looking at things upside down. The real problem was looking at things upside down. Real life—real walking around—doesn’t happen upside down on the ceiling at all.
That, I believe, is what our sense of fairness and our notions of right and wrong often are before God—rather upside down and in need of readjusting because of our sin and death. You see, when we cry out that something’s unfair or not right, too often we do so without God in the picture. Too often we think that we matter most, or that we should be in charge of the world and our individual lives. Or, worse yet, we even blame God for the unfair things that happen. “How could a loving God let that tragedy happen?”
But let’s remember what Isaiah says in our first reading: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” Yes, the Lord God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—has compassion and abundantly pardons. He wants us, and all people, to seek Him while He makes Himself found in His grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. In that way we might realize that even the tragedies of hurricanes, flooding, financial meltdowns, and our various personal troubles, are really meant to drive us to Him.
Let’s remember how St. Paul comforts us and models the Christian faith for us. He could say that even his imprisonment was “for Christ” and that Christ would be honored in his body. He could boldly say, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” because Christ had died for him. This same Jesus, the Son of God, has lived and died for us. His suffering brings us peace. His death brings us life. His blood brings us eternal forgiveness for our many doubts about God and His goodness. His love reorients our sense of fairness to receive His mercy and grace always. Redeemed and loved by this Jesus Christ, we can look at all of life with new lenses. All things work to lead us back to our compassionate, forgiving God. All things work together for good for those who love God.
And let’s also remember our Gospel reading. The master was not unfair when he gave the last workers the same day’s pay as he promised the first workers. You see, he did keep his promise to pay the first workers a full day’s wage. The problem comes not from the master, but from the first workers and their sense of “fairness.” They thought fairness meant getting paid by the hour and only for what a person can earn by hard work through the heat of the day. The master, though, had a different way of thinking. His thoughts were higher than their thoughts. He decided to be extra lavish and overly generous. He chose to give everyone a full day’s wage, no matter how many hours they had worked.
Dear friends, that master is the perfect picture of our Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We expect Him to act within the bounds of our sense of fairness, even as we look upside down at Him and our life with Him. But, truthfully and thankfully, He has a different sense of fairness. No, His sense of fairness is not arbitrary or capricious. Rather, His sense of fairness is right side up. That’s what our Lord Jesus shows us on the cross and in His resurrection. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might by saved through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17). Master God pays all of us the “day’s wage” of His mercy, forgiveness, and love. Everything in life—even our life itself, even the bad things as well as the good things—is a gift from the Savior who loves us enough to die and rise again for us.
Things may not seem “fair” in this fallen world of ours. But we can be sure and certain that our loving God, our Savior Jesus Christ, has a different sense of fairness. His sense of fairness says, “I love you. I give Myself for you.” So, come, receive Him in His Body and Blood; come, receive His fairness of forgiveness. Amen.