Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sermon; Proper 20A; Matthew 20:1-16

Anybody who has had children, even those of us with only one child, has heard cries of, “That's not fair!”  Anyone who has ever worked with other people has heard, at one time or another, “That's not fair.”  We ourselves have probably uttered, “That's not fair,” more than a few times in our life.  And on more than one occasion I have responded, “It may not be fair, but that's the rule.”

It seems we want things to be fair even though we have been told multiple times, “Life isn't fair.”  But the more I look around and pay attention to things when this gets said, the more I am convinced that we don't want things to be fair for everybody, we just want them to be fair for us.

Here are some examples:  We say we want fairness, but it took this country 144 years before allowing women the right to vote.  We say we want fairness, but female employees are routinely paid less than their male counterparts.  We say we want fairness, but our country refuses to grant healthcare to all citizens.  We say we want fairness, but black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men.  We say we want fairness, but crimes against whites are more harshly punished than crimes against other ethnicities.  We say we want fairness, but nobody seems to be outraged when LeVar Burton says that every time he is pulled over he rolls down his window and puts out his empty hands.  We say we want fairness, yet white politicians have recently complained about attempts to register black voters.

We say we want fairness, yet we complain when those whom we think are less deserving are treated exactly like us.  We want fairness, as long as it is on our terms and doesn't grant too much fairness and equality to those who are different.

I think the underlying reason for a disparity in fairness has to do with value.  That which we value, and those whom we value, are treated with a greater degree of fairness.

In the parable, the landowner pays those who worked only a few hours the same rate as those who worked many hours.  The landowner believed this to be fair.  Those who worked many hours didn't see it like that.  They didn't see it as fair because they saw themselves as more valuable than the others.  Their effort was more valuable.  Their time served was more valuable.  And because they believed themselves to be more valuable, they believed they should receive more pay.  After all, it was only fair.

The landowner, however, has a different take on what is valuable and what is fair.  For the landowner, he valued the people who worked for him.  You could say that he valued people in that he made no distinction between the two groups.  He valued people enough to go in search of laborers for his field.  And he values those people enough to treat them fairly.

“But how can it be fair to pay those who have hardly worked the same as those who worked all day?” some may ask.  It's fair because the landowner pays everyone a living wage.  He pays them enough to buy food, clothing and shelter.  He pays them enough that they don't need to beg for help.  He pays them a wage that values their humanity.

Should every job have the same pay scale as every other job?  No, and I’m not trying to make that point.  Education, training, level of responsibility and other factors all should be taken into account.  But there's no reason a woman with the same level of education in the same job as a man should be paid less.  It comes down to what we value.  If landowners of today (businesses) see themselves as more valuable than another human, then wages will be set at the absolute minimum.  If, however, those same people value the people who work for them because they are people and children of God, then they should be following the example of the landowner in today's gospel and paying everyone a living wage.

The landowner in the gospel does care about the basic needs of the people in his area.  This is why he continually sought out people needing work.  It's why he paid everyone a living wage.  From out of his abundance he provided abundantly.

Rather than looking at the generosity of the landowner to others as a slight to us, maybe we could start viewing it with the same spirit of generosity that values those around us.

If we come to value others in the same way as the landowner, then maybe we can argue for women to receive equal pay.  Maybe we can work toward a health care system that is affordable to all.  Maybe we can work toward reducing the racial disparity of our prison system.  Maybe we can argue for living wages.

And whether or not that is fair depends, I think, very much on whether or not you value all people or only some people.



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