IT’S NOT FAIR
Last week our Gospel focussed on forgiveness, and in particular how God’s willingness to forgive us should motivate us to forgive others. This week we move on to the wider but related topic of generosity.
A land-owner engages a group of labourers and agrees the daily rate. As the day goes on he engages more men, a few at a time. At the end of the day he pays everyone the same although some have worked a full 12-hour shift, while others have worked just one hour. (Matt 20: 1-16). This causes mutterings and disquiet. Though no-one questions the going rate, our ideas of fairness suggest that the longer and harder the shift, the more a worker should be paid.
‘It’s not fair’ is a common complaint. For example, parents know how carefully they have to balance gifts and other privileges for their children. It’s not just children, we all do it. When we want to show generosity, we have to be careful no one feels left out.
While I wouldn’t recommend this as a new pay policy, Jesus’ focus on God’s generosity might also challenge our sense of fair play. What is the relationship between fairness and generosity? This parable, like, for example, that of the Prodigal Son; tells of God’s judgement and mercy, hence the link between fairness and forgiveness. Our sense of fair play wants to link merit and reward; not only should the man working 12 hours earn more than the man working one, but the best places in heaven should be for the virtuous; (live a holy life, follow God’s law, care for the poor). Yet Jesus mixed with tax-collectors and sinners; scandalising the upright and virtuous.
So why do we struggle? Could it be that our sense of fairness and generosity clash? Fairness is just reward, something we earn. Generosity is just giving – something we can never earn.
Rev Philip Payne
The Pew Sheet is available in the Download section of the website.