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.
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 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.
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! That’s when you’ll know you are being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord of the Powers, You Alone know what is in each heart and what is truly right for each person. When I abandon that truth and seek out my own limited understanding of righteousness and equity, I stumble over my emotions and become enslaved to my own short-sightedness. And I am paralyzed in that slavery and make matters worse instead of better. Please give me the humility to rest in Your wisdom and escape the prelest of my own limited understanding. And help me hunger for mercy and kindness rather than the cold and capricious fantasy of “fairness.” Amen.