That’s Not Fair!Fr. Barnabas Powell
“That’s not fair!”
My daughter was quite upset over what she perceived to be a bigger piece of cake given to her sister. The depth of indignant and obvious heartfelt wound was unmistakable in the tone of her voice, her crossed arms, and the tears welling in her eyes. She was righteously fighting for what was “fair.” She would accept nothing less than absolute equality so as to affirm her equal status in the family structure. Fairness was absolutely necessary to communicate her worth and place in the family.
In today’s culture fighting for “fairness” seems to have become a major concern. But is the concept of “fair” real?
To be sure, treating each other well and working for honorable and respectful treatment of all people is an absolute value. Because we are all created in the image of God, to deny another respect and dignity is tantamount to rejecting the image of God that resides undiluted in each person. Even in the face of grave sin, human failings can never overpower the image of God in the most horrible behaving human. The image of God remains; marred but intact. The purpose of God’s grace and salvation is the restoration of that marred image and then to move us to His likeness.
But what of this fight for “fairness?”
There seems to be a poison lurking in all these demands for fairness, and that makes me question the value of the very concept itself. Do I want fairness or righteousness? Fairness may reduce all of us to mere machines. Fairness always runs the risk of a lowest common denominator mindset that eventually means spreading equal amounts of misery to everyone “to be fair.” Demands for fairness always seems to be tainted by the sickness of envy, and that sickness poisons the whole desire.
In today’s Gospel Lesson, our Lord confronts humanity’s weakened understanding of what’s fair. In Matthew 20:1-16 our Lord tells the story of a man who owns a vineyard, and he hires workers for a day’s wage to go and work in the vineyard. As the day progresses he finds other idle men who he then sends into the vineyard to work the rest of the day. Finally, just a bit before the day is done, the owner finds men at the last minute still idle, so he sends them into the vineyard to work.
At the end of the day, all the workers line up for their pay. The ones who just worked a few hours got a full day’s wage. The other men who had worked all day thought to themselves “If he’s paying them a full day’s wage then surely we will get more!” When it comes time to pay them, they receive the wage they were promised. Indignant, they demand to know why the owner is being so unfair!
Listen to the owner’s response: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or is your eye evil because I am good?”
A desire for “fairness” tainted by envy, selfishness, and pride will never produce harmony or even justice, because the “offended” group always devolves into revenge and becomes the very thing they hated when the shoe was on the other foot.
Today, allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge your desire for righteousness, and dismiss the fantasy of “fairness” from your hearts. Strive for justice in the truest sense of the word and not the “I want what they have” poverty of “fairness.” Our hearts, our homes, our communities, will never become truly loving and peaceful while the tyranny of false “fairness” drives our desires and behaviors. We were made for so much more than “fairness.” We were made for mercy and grace!
God please don’t be “fair” with me; be merciful and gracious to me!