Getting What’s Deserved/ What’s Fair
Tony E Dillon Hansen
20 Sep 2020
Sermon based upon Matthew 20:1-16, Jonah 4, Psalm 145, and Philippians 1:21-30
There is something peculiar and difficult about this parable because there is so much to unpack beginning with how people construct arguments over what is fair and what is not. Jesus, with this parable, upends order and social norms, and that can make people jittery, nervous and even angry. This parable speaks to our expectations and getting what we think we deserve. Underlying, the parable reveals a glimpse into the kingdom of God.
Our opening quote from Charles Dickens reminds us via the character, Pip, that having social status and money or “expectations” of those do not make us great people.
This idea of “fair” inevitably has me thinking about our Covid-19 situation that cancelled the Iowa State Fair and county fairs. I agree with many that it was a sad day when they announced the decision, and it did not feel “fair.”
Yet, if we look at this story, we might ask ourselves “where do you find yourself in the story?” Are you the ones toiling long hours, or those who had to wait even though you are capable and willing to do good work? Are you the ones who just found a job?
Are you the landowner trying to find help? Would you have done something different? Why?
Those who are troubled and see themselves as those toiling, looking onward at the line of payments, and wondering something along the lines of “I should get more” because obviously, I deserve more.
Yet, the landowner promised “whatever is right,” and each group agreed to this. Now the same is being given to each group. If you are among those longer workers, why would you expect more like they did? From where do you base that expectation?
In fact, what is so important that one receive more than the other?
Then we must consider what was the “whatever is right”? As I said in the outset, this is a glimpse into the kingdom of God because we see this gift of grace freely given.
That this falls in Matthew reminds us of the Beatitudes again where the blessings are given not to those with seniority, status or wealth, but those poor in spirit, those pure in heart, and those thirsting for spirit and righteousness. Those willing to seek the Truth in humility. Those willing to share light for all and to lift up others.
What is really important then is a question of what value do we place upon time, work, or people. When I say valuing people, that is not how many “likes” you get on Facebook or talking to hear yourself talk, but truly listening with compassionate and open heart.
When we look at the later groups in the parable we see many examples in our lives. Should youth be treated differently than people who lived a few decades? (Reminds me of the Pink Floyd lyric, “Remember when you were young… Shine on you crazy diamonds.”) Should immigrants be treated less because our immigrant fore-bearers came here first? Should homeless be treated differently because they fell onto hard times? Why does any person deserve less than anyone else?
This is why recent protests for equality and fairness confuse those who already have privilege. Think, from where does righteousness and justice come? It is not governments and corporations. It is the presence of divine grace lived out and shared with all.
Yes this is why some react to this parable with some jealousy and mistrust because it may feel like someone is getting more than they deserve. Who decided that? Government, commercials, you, or God? Even churches get comfortable; comfortable enjoying gifts while foregoing a “hunger and thirst for righteousness” or mercy instead because what’s familiar. However, are we leaving others out that deserve God’s grace?
We go to church to experience God and to share that experience.
So, Jesus pushes us to go beyond social and political constructs and look into our hearts. That is not always easy, but Jesus works hearts better than exercise. We can see around us how this shows up in many areas of life where we have built expectations, privilege and prejudice. The underlying lesson is that God’s kingdom doesn’t work that way.
Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel comfortable. Yet, it does not have to be difficult when we see true value of others, even when they are new, different or even our enemy. We welcome these voices, and when we do, we welcome God’s Truth, God’s grace, into our lives, our churches, our society, and our heart – all because we deserve the gift instead of exclude.
R. Jacobsen, commentator from Working Preacher, says truly understanding our “incredible gift of grace” becomes even more powerful when we recognize that others also have this. Still, there may be those that challenge this because this belief “that’s not the way the world works,” and you might be correct.
Fortunately, that is not how God works and in that kingdom, all are entitled and gifted with grace, love and justice. In fact, God’s grace is given to anyone who comes, who prays.
It is kind of like the state fair. Whether you go for the whole 10 days or the last day, like I do, and whether you have turkey leg, corn dog, or deep-fried something, you get the experience. Unlike the state fair though, God’s grace and welcome does not close, does not get cancelled, and does not exclude.
All are welcome to this gift, the holy promise – no matter where you are or when you arrived. All, the immigrants, the forgotten, the humble, the mourning, seeking mercy.. all are given sanctuary and freedom to live in that grace. You and I can enjoy and be free in our gifts. We can witness that gifts in others. Justice, righteousness, and love are God’s gifts to be shared not simply taken. Lift others, free each other and make way for real grace. That, my friends, is “whatever is right.”
Thanks be to God.