Parable of workers in the vineyard/Jonah
It’s just not fair!
It seems that one of the earliest and strongest human emotions is a sense of fairness – listen to any children playing in a park and after a while you are likely to hear ‘it’s not fair.. it’s my turn now’ ‘it’s not fair.. your half is bigger than my half’ ‘it’s not fair.. she started it’.
It’s an emotion we never grow out of.
Published in the Guardian yesterday (Saturday 20/9/08), Gordon Brown has written a column entitled ‘Fairness is still our guide’ – in which he talked about the current economic situation and spoke of the government’s ‘commitment to fair rules, fair chances and a fair say for all.’ Gordon Brown wants to be known as a man who is fair-minded.
Perhaps this is a way of securing votes – since we all want life to be fair.
You may know that I happen to have been asked to conduct a number of funerals in the area recently – one here, two in Whittlesford, and this coming week I have one at the crematorium and one in Duxford. In meeting with the families I quite often hear the comment ‘it’s not fair’. ‘She was a lovely person, it’s not fair that she was burdened with emphysema’ ; ‘he was no age at all, it’s not fair that he should be taken from us so soon’; ‘I’ve already lost three members of my family this year, it’s not fair that another person has been taken from me’.
And all I can do is try to be empathetic, to understand how it might feel, and to listen – because no, it often isn’t fair. Good people die too young, whilst unkind ones stagger one for decades more – life (and death) can be downright unfair and it would be foolish of me or anyone else to try to say otherwise.
And perhaps there is another deep sense of unfairness, too, at funerals, which affects those of us in the church.
The message of the gospel and the words about ‘the hope of the resurrection to eternal life’ are exactly the same whether the person who died is the holiest saint or the worst rascal. There is no scope in our funeral services for declaring that one person is entitled to a place in heaven because they were a faithful member of Christ’s church, whilst another’s place is pretty uncertain given their lack of church attendance.
In any funeral service we place the deceased into the merciful hands of God – and we declare the promise of Jesus Christ of eternal life for all, even (perhaps especially) the sinner and the one who had difficulty believing.
We who sit here today are no more special to God than the person who will only come here when they are carried in and placed on the trestles.
I’m sorry if that seems shocking – but it’s the gospel.
We might want to cry to God, with Jonah ‘I knew you were going to be forgiving to the sinners – it’s not fair!’
It’s not fair – but Jesus tells the story all too clearly.
Those who labour in the vineyard all day are rewarded with the pay they had been promised. But then... those who’ve only just slipped in at the last hour are given exactly the same reward! Those of us brought up on trades unions and talk of differentials are as up in arms as the workers themselves – it’s not fair!
The kingdom of heaven is like this, says Jesus: God is not fair, but God is merciful.
This isn’t fair – but this is Good News.
Because in the end we don’t want God to reward us only for what we have done in this life (and punish us for the bad bits) – we want God to receive us home, as one of God’s own.
We want to hear the words ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ and know that we can stop and rest & enjoy God’s loving presence forever.
Why does God have a change of mind about destroying the people of Nineveh? Because God created them all, and wants to love and forgive, not to punish and destroy.
Why does God reward life-long service in the same way as death-bed conversion? Because God is waiting to receive each one of us whenever we are ready.
Why should God love me just as much when I'm being a twerp as when I'm having a good day? Because God is merciful, and he loves us. All. Always.
This is Good News!
Thanks be to God