When is the last time you felt life wasn’t fair?
I like to follow the rules. When I’m working on a project or am given parameters, I tend to stay inside of them. When other people choose to play outside those rules, I feel a sense of unfairness. I get angry and frustrated and want to know why people just can’t play by the rules.
My name literally means “just.” I want things to be just and right and fair. Yet life doesn’t always play out that way. Things are often unfair. Sometimes things are unfair more often then they are fair.
Our world seems to be built upon unfairness. People are being trampled upon so that others can be lifted up. There’s argument over whether equal rights for all people is a good thing (spoiler alert: it is). Groups of people are being alienated and restricted out of fear. Wages are unfair. Laws are unfair. It seems like teachers are unfair and bosses are unfair and everything all around us seems unfair almost all the time.
Last week we started this series on God’s Expectations. We’re looking at how God expects us to live and care for his Kingdom. Our scripture tonight looks at what is fair. It’s a parable — a story Jesus tells with a meaning. He doesn’t tell us the meaning, but leaves us to interpret it through the story.
This is what Jesus says in Matthew 20:1–16 (CEB):
1“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2After he agreed with the workers to pay them a denarion, he sent them into his vineyard.
3“Then he went out around nine in the morning and saw others standing around the marketplace doing nothing. 4He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I’ll pay you whatever is right.’ 5And they went.
“Again around noon and then at three in the afternoon, he did the same thing. 6Around five in the afternoon he went and found others standing around, and he said to them, ‘Why are you just standing around here doing nothing all day long?’
7“‘Because nobody has hired us,’ they replied.
“He responded, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ 9When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
13″But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.” Matthew 20:1–16 (CEB)
After reading this scripture the first time, all the little “this is unfair” alarms in my head started going off. In my desire to have things be right and fair, this seems wrong. People that worked for an hour got paid for a full day when people who worked “all day in the hot sun” got paid the same amount? Where’s the justice here? Where’s the fairness?
Yet, this is a parable. We need to dig deeper to see what Jesus is really teaching. It is about fairness, but it has nothing to do with getting paid for a job. Jesus is talking about the fairness and equality in the Kingdom of God.
Before Jesus was born, the world was unjust and unfair. Roman occupied much of the planet and subjected all people to unfair taxes and unjust treatment. The people were praying for a messiah — a new ruler. They wanted a king sent by God that would bring about a just and fair world.
The goal of Jesus’ ministry was to bring about a new Kingdom of God here on Earth. A kingdom that was just and fair where all were treated as equal members. Jesus’ message was a slap in the face of the ruling kingdom of Rome. Jesus’ kingdom was the opposite of the one that he was trying to replace.
When Jesus sacrificed his life for us, he gave us all the responsibility of bringing this kingdom to life. He gave us the keys to the kingdom and left us with the expectation of carrying out what he started: an alternative way of life where people are treated fairly and are equal.
In his parable tonight, Jesus is saying that no matter when we started a relationship with God, we’re all equally deserving of the keys to his kingdom. Whether you were raised in the church like I was, or this is your first time hearing what God’s expectations are all about, we’re on equal footing. Whether you’re seventy-five or seventeen or seven months old, we’re equally deserving of God’s Kingdom.
This means we are all equally responsible for tending to the kingdom and properly caring for it. Caring for God’s kingdom means treating people fairly and equally. God’s Expectation is that all are equal. It means that we have to treat each other that way.
When we try to skirt the rules so that we have an advantage another doesn’t, we are not treating each other as equals.
When we use another person as a joke so that we can get a laugh and look cooler to our friends, we are not treating each other as equals.
When we see people being left out — either by friends or by government rules, we are not treating each other as equals.
God’s expectation is that the world is fair and just. It is a fairness and justice where all are treated as God would treat us. No one person is greater than another. That’s the kingdom he wants us to cultivate. That’s the reason he gave us each the keys.
It’s Labor Day weekend. Whether we’re working or home from school or going to the beach, we’re to treat each other as equals. We’re to not resent those that get the day off and we’re to not mock those that have to work. Fairness and God’s equality means respecting each other and cherishing everyone as a unique creation of God.