God Doesn’t Play Fair

“God Doesn’t Play Fair”
Matthew 20:1-16
Sunday September 18, 2011 – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Equality isn’t fair!

Think about it – When we were kids splitting the last piece of pie was never fair no matter how equal the slices were…

The older child thinks he deserves more because he’s older
The younger child thinks she deserves more because she’s precious
No two kids are ever completely happy with the equality of pie.

Today’s gospel sounds a bit like quarreling children…
I worked harder, I should get more!
He started later, he deserves less!
The boss isn’t being fair!
Really?! Whose money is it anyway?
What was our agreement?
You got what you earned, why gripe?
Everybody got equal pay…That’s not fair!
What about equal pay for equal work?
Well, that’s a 20th Century concept, not a biblical one.

What Jesus really wants us to hear this morning is that IF God WAS fair we’d all be in trouble.

Let us pray…
Like morning dew, like manna, fine as frost,
may your word now cleanse and nourish us, O God.
In Jesus’ name…Amen

Life is not fair…Just ask any kid…
It’s not fair that I have to do homework before watching TV;
It’s not fair I have to eat broccoli before I get dessert;
It’s not fair I can’t go outside and play just because I stayed home sick from school;
It’s not fair __(you fill in the blank)__

As adults, a sense of fairness usually develops into a sense of justice and equality;
that’s a good thing…
It’s not fair that some people get to vote when others do not;
That some ride in the front of the bus and others must ride in the back;
That some go to bed hungry while others fill trash bags with their excess;
That is a mature concept of fairness.

The immature view of fairness tends to be pretty self-centered…
That’s what we see in this story – an immature understanding of how God ought to be fair in his distribution of God’s grace.
It’s pretty self-serving.

The great thing about this story is that God doesn’t play fair and we should be very grateful!
On the surface the story seems fairly straightforward…
These guys are day laborers who depend on a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay…
In the morning they are all in competition with each other for a few jobs…
Some get chosen to work and agree on a fair day’s pay…
As the day goes on and other groups are sent to work, there is no specified agreement for the amount they will be paid…It is simply, “What is right.”
These who are called later in the day have no expectation,
they are just glad to get some work and some pay…
These who are chosen later were not lazy and showed up late, they just weren’t picked…
They were there, ready to work all day long…
But, at the end of the day the landowner gives each man the same pay…
Those who worked all day got exactly what they were promised…
Those who worked part of the day got a generous surprise…
It is this act of generosity that causes all the trouble…
I think it’s tempting for us to see their point of view…
Our mental calculators go to work and we begin to think that those who worked the hardest should have gotten a bonus…But that wasn’t the deal…
The landowner has every right to be generous with his money in any way he sees fit as long as he keeps his agreement with those who signed on at the beginning.

In a way this is a story about human nature – “fallen” human nature to be sure
It’s a story about our sense of entitlement.
It’s a story about how our insecurity leads us to understand and assess our lives,
not through the abundance we have been given by God,
but instead by what we feel we still lack.
This sense of lack then leads us to define ourselves by comparing and begrudging the good fortune of others because it was not our good fortune.
Wouldn’t this be a great story if the guys who worked all day were happy with the money they earned and rejoiced for the generosity of the landowner who helped the guys who didn’t get to work all day by paying them well?
Wouldn’t this be a great story if we heard the men celebrating the fact that they could all now go home with food for their families’ tables instead of complaining about who got more?
Wouldn’t this be a much better story if there was no jealousy and resentment in it?

Maybe that is what this parable lays out for us today…
A choice we can make as to how our story will sound…
When we look at our lives, do we count our blessings or our misfortunes?
Do we pay attention to the areas of plenty in our lives or what we perceive as lack?
Do we live by gratitude or envy?
Do we look to others in solidarity and compassion or see them only as competition?
Do we realize that this choice is as unavoidable as it is simple?
We cannot be grateful and envious at the same time. We must choose.

Now, here’s the real kicker – Jesus was crucified because he offers this simple,
but unavoidable choice…
Jesus was killed, not simply because he proclaimed that the grace and mercy of God was available to all people – even those thought to be so unworthy…
Jesus was killed because his proclamation shines light on the hardness of heart, the stone-cold entitlement of spirit that is deeply entrenched in the fallen human spirit.
Jesus’ vision of an inclusive kingdom of God that broke boundaries and tore down walls offered a picture of a generous and merciful God that betrayed the lie being told by the protectors of the status quo.
Those who cried out, “That’s not fair!” are the ones who could not embrace this new vision and so they put the visionary to death.

This story isn’t about God being fair it’s about God being merciful to all of us…
If God was fair we’d all be in serious trouble!
We should be grateful that God does not give us what we deserve
That would probably be fair, but we would be very unhappy.

As we confront our sense of entitlement…
as we come to grips with our own jealousy and covetousness…
as we begin to hear ourselves in the words of the grumbling day laborers…
we need to understand that all of us are equal recipients of God’s gifts.

This parable cautions us not to be jealous when God’s gifts of forgiveness and life are given to others in equal measure to the gifts given to us.
We need to realize that God gives us so much more than we deserve…
Whether you’ve been working in the vineyard all your life,
or if you’ve just recently been brought on board…
the pay’s the same – God’s abundance, love, forgiveness, and mercy
is given equally to all…

Thank goodness that God doesn’t play fair!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

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