The Childish Fantasy of FairnessFr. Barnabas Powell
I don’t believe in “fairness.” Really! I really don’t believe in it at all. Oh, I get the concept, don’t get me wrong, but I simply don’t believe humans are capable of it. At least not yet, anyway.
In fact, the older I get the more I’m convinced that the constant screaming for fairness is a sure sign of both immaturity and bitter envy, neither of which makes for a strong person or a strong society.
Frankly, I’m convinced the Evil One uses our innate knowing that fairness SHOULD exist AND our inability to produce it to enslave us to perpetual agitation or despair!
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 20:1-16:
The Lord said this parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘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?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Famous story and a very disturbing teaching by Jesus about our misplaced understanding of “fairness.” And, if you get this, you’ll be able to deal with all the unfairness around you in a peaceful way!
- First, God is not Fair. God is generous. God is loving. God is an Oathkeeper. But God is not “fair”, especially in how we think of fairness. God’s idea of “fairness” and our idea of “fairness” rarely match. And that should not make you question God. It should stop you in your tracks and make you question yourself!
- Next, Fairness is BIGGER than you think. And that’s our biggest stumble. When we say “That’s not fair” or “All I want is to be treated fairly” what we usually mean is “I want to be treated special.” At the heart of why our ideas of fairness are too small is the root of pride. Once that poisons the well of our perception, we need to develop a healthy skepticism about our perspective!
- Third, Demands for Fairness are rarely motivated by wisdom. I see it all the time as a priest and a father. “Why did she get to do this and I didn’t?” “How come he gets to go and I don’t?” All this is motivated by a skewed perspective on the whole idea of fairness. Even in our politics and social challenges, demands for fairness are usually “code” for retribution or revenge. And that drop of poison in the motivation is enough to ruin the argument.
- Finally, Fairness is Possible only in the end. The funeral service of our Orthodox Faith is one of the wisest and most profound moments of wisdom and prayer ever devised. And in it, the Church demands that we look at the gravesites and ask “Is this a King or a pauper?” “Is this the grave of a wise man or a foolish man?” Death brings fairness to all. And so the wise preparation for that moment when fairness will be granted becomes the most important task of any living human person.
When we see God teaching us that Generosity is preferred over some notion of “fairness” we better stop and pay strict attention to this revelation. When we see ourselves or others saying foolish things like “I only want what I am due” or “All I want is to be treated fairly” you can bet the person saying these things is lying. Too many times when we say things like this we mean we want someone punished or deprived of what they have to make the world around us “seem” more “fair.” But too often this motivation is driven by envy and childish immaturity. All you have to do is see any posters at most “protest” rallied to see this bitter envy and childish immaturity in full display!
Just read the story of the saints we remember today and you will see the mature and royal path taken by the 40 Martyrs at Lake Sebaste. These 40 men were soldiers used to the harsh but privileged life of a Roman soldier. And these men were all Christians at a time when Christianity was still a persecuted religion in the Empire. Their inspiring story of their brave and faithful witness for Christ as they were condemned to a horribly slow death on a frozen lake screams “UNFAIR” but these brave soldiers for Christ remained faithful in the face of unfairness.
Today, are you still trying to get life to be “fair” to you? Stop. Turn from this dead-end attitude and run to the gracious, good, and loving God Who wants to treat you with Fatherly love rather than “fairness.” And then start treating everyone around you the same way! This is the only wise and mature path to a Normal Orthodox life.
P.S. O Forty Champions of the Lord, you abandoned the armies of the world and attached yourselves to the Master in heaven. Having gone through fire and water, O Blessed Ones, you worthily won glory from heaven and a multitude of crowns.
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