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A Question of Fairness and a Losing Slogan

24 November 2008

It’s such a wondrous world we live in and so blessed are we who live and share the world with one another in peace and generosity.

In my last post, I raised the issue of fairness in relation to our lives as human beings.  I asked the question, “Did God ever say that life on Earth would be fair?”  After some research this morning (as I spent my Sunday at church and then writing a paper on conservative vs. liberal religious philosophies in American life and thought), I’ve come to the conclusion that no, nowhere in the Bible that I’ve found does it say that life–in and of itself–would be fair.  In fact, many stories in the Good Book tell the exact opposite of a story of fairness.

I tell you my friends, the Lord works in truly mysterious ways.  It’s interesting that I should be wondering about this subject on the exact same week as Pastor Ted should deliver as part of our church services a story that Jesus told about that exact issue.  While I think Pastor Ted’s intent was more about the issue of generosity than fairness and equality, it dealt the both issues at the same time.

The story Ted told was about a vineyard landowner who needed workers to tend to his harvest before it spoiled.  So this landowner ventured into town and found a large group of peasants whose families were needy and needed work.  The vineyard owner chose five of those people in the early morning to work in his fields and they agreed to be compensated one denarius for their work.  As the day went on, and it was clear that a greater number of workers would be needed, the landowner would go back to the town and gather another group and then another and tell each group that they would be paid what was appropriate for their labor.

At the end of the day when the peasant workers hired at different times of the day gathered to be paid their wages, the vineyard owner handed out one denarius to each worker, regardless of what time they had been hired.  Immediately, there was outrage–according to some the vineyard owner had not been fair!  “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”  The vineyard owner stated simply, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have a right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?”

This story reminds me very much of this whole issue of “spreading the wealth around.”  I don’t believe it’s for the government to determine how to dole out individual Americans’ money.  Who’s to say who makes too much and who makes to little?  The whole idea of giving to each according to his need and taking from each according to his ability is, upon deeper analysis, absurd.  Are people who are able less deserving of their earnings that those who are more needy?  Can we not allow those who are “financially able to be more generous” decide how to donate to the less fortunate?  All of those peasant workers were poor and without any source of income when the vineyard owner came to need work.  It was his right to choose to whom he would give work and to whom compensation would be provided.  This story can be found in Matthew 20:1-16.  The last line of scripture in that section reads, “So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

Some might think that makes Jesus a socialist.  No–that is absurd.  It makes Jesus–God–generous.  Can you imagine before the creation of the world and universe when there was just God how generous and wonderful a being He is that He used His infinite wisdom and benevolence to give us life?  So wonderful is this thing called life that He should want to share that with us and to create not only people, but a place for people to enjoy their life and to make their own decisions about how they will live today and in the hereafter?  Not only did He say, “I will give you life.”  He said, “I will give you the free will to choose how to live it.”  How giving is our Lord?  He’s supremely and miraculously generous!

So this harkens back to the question about life being fair.  The only fairness is in us being granted life.  And there will be “fairness” in heaven.  But between your birth and death, you are to choose how you will live–hopefully by the grace and guidance of God–and how generous you can and will be.  And so, in this season of thanksgiving and this season of joy, we must never forget the importance of being generous to our fellow man.  And those of us who are less fortunate must remember to do our very best to make our own way and to ask for the guidance and grace of God to help take care of us.  If it’s ONE thing we know, it’s that God is our provider.  Provider of life.  And life, afterall, here in America is our first and foremost inalienable right, is it not?

President-select Obama likes to quote the following passage from the Bible:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

That’s all well and good and certainly Biblical wisdom to live by.  So when President-select Obama says that he will encourage Americans to get involved in community service and serving their country… we must not forget that in doing good for those who need our help, we are doing something much more important than simply serving our country.  We are serving the purpose of God.  And that, my friends, is to be paramount.

As I reflect on the reasons for the Republican presidential ticket’s loss in the election of 2008, I am struck by one undeniable truth.  McCain’s slogan was “Country First.”  And that sounds well and good… on the surface.  But I wonder if the problem was just thatCountry before God.  This is certainly not what our Creator intended.  I don’t know what was in Obama’s heart nor do I pretend to know the heart of John McCain–but I wonder now, did McCain lose his way?  Did he stop looking to God for guidance?   Did he turn to himself and his advisors for answers rather than turing to the ultimate Advisor in heaven?  And if that is the case, is that “country first” slogan and seeming life philosophy the exact reason why McCain lost the election?  It’s very curious, my friends.  Very curious.

I’ll leave you with that for today.  I’ve got visits scheduled at the end of the week with Pastor Ted, each of which I will share my insights from.  I suspect that you will hear from me before that as well.  “Stay tuned,” as they say.

ASAP and God Bless us all in this holiday season of thanksgiving.

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