Fairness and Equality

One of the things I discovered when teaching grade one was how concerned my kids were with things being equal. So if I gave out a snack to one kid what did I have to do? Give a snack to everyone.  And if I didn’t do that than what would I hear “That’s … unfair”…I should have been fired on the spot! And you know, that doesn’t really change much as we get older – we are all very concerned with equal treatment. This is a big deal for us and something that should be a big deal for us.

We think about equality all the time in who gets on the team who gets the part in musical who gets to go on the trip, getting into a university perhaps… or a job we want an equal chance.

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that equality and fairness were things that interested Jesus as well –  so you’re going to hear one of his most famous stories about a group of workers bringing in the harvest – and it’s about fairness and equality –  thanks Jacob for reading it for us.

 “Jesus said, the Kingdom of heaven is like this.  Once there was a man who owned a vineyard.  The time had come to gather up the ripe grapes and turn them into wine.  He needed help so he went out very early in the morning to hire some men to work in his vineyard.He agreed to pay them the regular wage, a hundred dollars a day, and so he sent them to work to gather in the grapes from his vineyard. He went out again to the marketplace at nine o'clock and saw some men standing there doing nothing, so he told them, ‘You also go and work in the vineyard, and I will pay you a fair wage.’ So they went also. Then at twelve o'clock and again at three o'clock he did the same thing. It was nearly five o'clock when he went out again to the marketplace and saw some other men still standing there. ‘Why are you wasting the whole day here doing nothing?’ he asked them. ‘Well, no one hired us,’ they answered. ‘Well, then, you go and work in the vineyard,’ he told them. “When evening came, the owner told his foreman, ‘Go now and call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with those who were hired last and ending with those who were hired first.’  The men who had begun to work at five o'clock were paid a hundred dollars each. 10 So when the men who were the first to be hired came to be paid, they thought they would get more money; but they too were given a hundred dollars each. 11 They took their money and started grumbling against the boss.  12 ‘These guys who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘while we put up with a whole day's work in the hot sun—yet you paid them the same as you paid us!’  13 ‘Listen, friends,’ the owner answered one of them, ‘I have not cheated you. After all, you agreed to do a day's work for one hundred dollars.14 So now, take your pay and go home. I want to give these men who were hired last the same pay as I gave you. 15 Don't I have the right to do as I wish with my own money? Or are you jealous because I am generous?’” 16 And Jesus concluded, “In God’s Kingdom, those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last.”

Now, I want to tell you that I have worked harvesting grapes and it’s really hard work. When I went out to work, I realized I hadn’t dressed appropriately for this work – and that most workers were 20 years younger than I was! I started work in the rain bending down getting the lowest grapes and then working up and you stand up and squat down and stand up and squat down and it’s a real work out I’ll tell you. And then the sun came out and it became really hot and sticky hot…

And after a while I started having that low blood pressure experience – and it made me so sick and there’s that moment where you think you’ll pass out and to be honest, I nearly low blood pressured myself to the Kingdom of God. I lasted 6 hours… then I quit… funny thing was they called me a year later and wanted to know if I’d come back…

So I always had trouble with this story of Jesus – I had a lot of sympathy for those guys who worked the whole day. They don’t even get paid first.  I never understood this story. The same amount for everyone…well ok, if the guy wants to throw his money around that’s his business but why should the guys who come last get paid first? Didn’t make sense.

Until Pastor Dennis explained it in church. Pastor Dennis is brilliant by the way… The ones who are hired first are the strong, the capable the ones who are young and able to work all day. Because they are the best in the workforce they get hired first. Of course they get hired first.

Then later on the less capable ones get hired  the second squad – until the least capable ones are the leftovers and get hired last – these are the older ones perhaps they are weaker, sick or handicapped the ones who can’t do a day’s work but still need work to survive!

And why do they get paid first? Because they are the ones who are most in need and need their money first. They are the hungry, the sick…those who urgently need their wages.

So this is a Jesus story about equality and about fairness… and he suggests this is something about how God works too. It tells us God has a heart for those in need of care who need a helping  hand.

Equality and fairness are not always the same thing. And like this image here equality is not fair – if everyone had the same number of boxes only one can see the game. If they were distributed equally everyone could see the game. The take away here is that you think about it a bit and try to apply it to your day to day lives. What’s equal…what’s fair and what is just.