Life just isn’t fair, thank God
by Rev. Dr. Lourdino A. Yuzon

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or, do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15)

“Life just isn’t fair.” From time to time, we hear this anguished cry of complaint about the underserved harshness of the human situation. I am in a vocation for which an imposing figure would be a tremendous asset, yet unlike others, I am not that smart, tall, dark and handsome. I have tried to be honest in my dealings with others and all I have to show for my lifetime of work is a precarious lack of material resources. In contrast, a close friend of mine was a mediocre student in high school who amassed a sizeable fortune by cutting corners in the way he runs his business. But instead of paying the penalty of his wrongdoing, his business flourishes and is now financially secure for the rest of his life. “We have a black sheep in our family,” another friend of mine confided, “yet it is he who received a generous bequest from our affluent Tia Maria.”

“Life just isn’t fair.” With a shrug of their shoulders, politicians invoke this statement of reality to explain inequalities in public life. Parents find this a convenient way of trying to explain the complexities of life to their children. Pastors also find this useful in trying to make sense of the mystery of why bad things happen to good people.

Reading our gospel lesson this morning makes us sit up and say, “God, are you teaching us to be unfair to others? If so, you are not a just God at all!” This story is a parable of the Kingdom of God with the landowner playing the role of God. The landowner needs laborers to pick grapes from his vineyard. For this labor-intensive task, he hires work hands from a pool of unemployed laborers gathered in central locations. With those casual workers whom he hires early in the day, he agrees to pay each one a denarius for a day’s labor. But he has no such agreement with those he hires at the eleventh hour. The unexpected twist in the story comes when, at payment time, he gives the same wage one denarius – to all the workers for vastly different work output. The workers who labored longer hours grumble. The landlord dismissively replies and says that the laborers have no right to question his generosity. The story strikes us with its raw unfairness. Why should a person who worked one hour receive the same wage as the one who toiled under a broiling sun the whole day long?

At first glance, this parable seems to teach us that we have no choice but to accept without question that life just isn’t fair at all. But it does not. Neither does it suggest that Jesus advocates an economic system that contradicts the principle of “equal work, equal pay.” The message of this parable is that life is more than a question of fairness for it speaks of life in God’s kingdom that is lived in the light of undeserved and immeasurable divine grace which is God’s absolute gift to us. Its central truth is stated in verse 15: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or, do you begrudge my generosity?”

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