“What Is Fair?”

Here are my thoughts for Sunday, September 18, 2011, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 16: 2 – 15, Philippians 1: 21 – 30, and Matthew 20: 1 – 16.

Note – I will be at Drew UMC (Carmel, NY) this coming Saturday, September 24th, for their Saturday evening worship service. There is lobster and chicken dinner from 4 to 8 with the service at 7 so, if you can, make plans to be there for the meal and stay for the worship. <Contact information>

The one thing that has always amazed me about the lectionary and the Scripture readings each week is how they easily fit into the topics, events, and issues of today. Now, some may say this is God’s plan but I, as you all probably know, have a hard time with that concept. It speaks of pre-destination and no free will on our part, an idea/concept which I know some people gladly accept.

But that also makes the Bible a fixed and unchanging document. And when that happens, it becomes impossible to relate what Jesus said two thousand years ago to what is happening today. And when you cannot relate what Jesus said, you essentially make the Bible and Christianity irrelevant.

On the other hand, if you understand that God gave us the ability to think and make choices, then the Bible becomes a living and breathing document, one that allows us to see paths in this world.

But we must also make sure that the path is guided by the thoughts and words that are in the Bible, not what we would have them to be.

Consider if you will the Gospel reading for today. We read the story about the workers every three years and we get upset about it. On the one hand, we can sympathize with those workers who put in a full day’s effort but, in the end, received the same wage as those who only worked a half of the day or even only worked one hour. If we see those who worked the full day as receiving a fair wage, then those who only worked the ½ day or the one hour received far more than they deserved. But suppose that those who worked the one hour received the fair wage; then those who worked the ½ day or the full day were underpaid.

Of course, in today’s society, where we are apt to see day laborers standing at the corner waiting for someone to come by and offer them even a little snippet of work, we are apt to take the attitude (which I know many people take) that they were lucky to get the work and they should be grateful for what they got and not complain.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the Israelites are beginning the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. And as will happen each week for the next few weeks, they will be complaining about the travel conditions, the food, and the water.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the people are grumbling about the food, saying that the food was better when they lived in Egypt. Maybe the food was better but they were slaves in Egypt, not free people; and they had made the choice to leave Egypt to seek a better live in the Promised Land.

I am reminded of those who came to this country some four hundred years ago, expecting to see gold lying around just waiting to be picked up. There is one document that lists those who lived in the Jamestown, VA, colony as “gentlemen.” It was a term for someone who wasn’t expected to do hard labor. One can only imagine this gentlemen sitting around expecting the laborers who came on the journey to do all the work and make the colony survive. We know from our history books that the Jamestown colony was in deep, deep trouble because of this attitude. And only when John Smith made some major changes in the social order did the colony begin to survive. And it only truly began when they quit looking for the gold and began working on crops and buildings.

But God provides the people with the necessary sustenance for their journey. He also provides instructions that state to take only what you need and no more. Those who take more find that what the extra that they take is no good when they go to eat it. And on the sixth day, they are told to take a second share because they will be no food delivered on the Sabbath. Those who do not take the second share find themselves without anything to eat on the Sabbath.

I am not enough of a theologian to know but I also think that the instructions that Moses gave to the Israelites about the gathering of the food also included instructions for gathering food for those who were unable to gather for themselves (the infirmed, the elderly, the young).

I can only look around at today’s society and wonder how we would deal with these instructions. Shouldn’t we be allowed to get as much as we desire instead of the amount that we need? Is it fair for some to have more when others have less?

Yes, I still have a problem with the Gospel reading and feel that someone who works 8 hours should receive more money for their work than someone who only works 1 hour. But I also know that there are many who would love to be working right now, even it is only for one hour. That’s why I asked which one of the workers received the fair wage.

Now, I also know that that perhaps the real meaning of the Gospel story is that God’s grace is the same for everyone, even if there are some who feel that they more they do, the more of God’s grace they should receive.

But what is fair? In a world where there are some who would proclaim that their wealth gives them the right to pay in taxes than the people who earn the wealth for them, what is fair?

Should not everyone receive the same basic needs and make sure that all are taken care of? The words of the politicians today, along with the words of many who proclaim Christ as their Savior, run so counter to the words of Paul written to the Philippians two thousand years ago as to not be funny.

Paul tells the Philippians to live a life worthy of Christ. Christ treated everyone equally and fairly and if that is the way He lived, how are we to live today?

I suppose that what bothers me more than anything is that much of the rhetoric of today is couched in terms of Christianity. But the words of Christ, the words of Paul, and the words of the Old Testament are words that speak of equality and fairness; of taking care of the people, not casting them aside. The words speak of taking only what you need and not keeping more than you deserve. Is it not the time so ask when we are going to be fair to all the people, no matter who they may be? Is it not time to live the life worthy of Christ?


As I was writing this, I received notice about Jay Voorhees’ piece – “Get the churches to do it. . . they’ll do anything!”. I suggest reading that piece as well.

1 thought on ““What Is Fair?”

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