Last night I was talking to my Dad about the corrupting idea of “fairness.” It seems rampant in our age. From Facebook posts of children and young adults whining, “It’s not fair!” to philosophers positing the unfairness of children being brought up by families to gay “marriage,” our society is inundated in a culture of “rights” and obsessed with seeking to make life “fair” for everyone (read: uniformity). One catch: you have to be lucky enough to survive the pre-natal period in order to enjoy any of these things.
This afternoon in my lectio divina I read Matthew 20.1-16, the parable of the householder and the vineyard. In it, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a householder going out to hire workers for his vineyard. The first bunch he hires at the beginning of the day; the next group a few hours later; another group even later; and finally, he hires the last workmen with only one hour of the workday left. When he pays them, he begins with the last group, giving them a full day’s wages. The first group gets excited because they think surely they will receive more pay than was agreed upon, since the slackers who only worked one hour were paid for working twelve. Surprise, surprise, the first group is paid exactly the same as all the others. They are indignant. “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (12, emphasis mine). In modern English: “That’s not fair!” The householder explains that he has not, in fact, done anything wrong to them. “Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go” (13, 14). Jesus ends with the words, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (16).
The workers in the vineyard, from those who worked all day to those who worked only one hour, are all in the Kingdom of God, yet there is a certain inequality. There are those who give their entire lives to God, working, suffering, sacrificing. Then there are those who spend their lives as they wish, concerned with no one but themselves, and have death-bed conversions. Both–and all in between–make up the Kingdom of God.
So this concept of fairness, equality. I do not think those words mean what you think that they mean, my fellow Christians. Yes, St. Paul says that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28). He is talking about our ability to be members of the Kingdom of God. Under the Old Covenant, Jewishness was a requirement to be an heir of God’s promise to Abraham. Under the New Covenant, there is no such requirement. All are invited, but not all will accept the invitation.
This push in our society for fairness and equality is contrary to the Faith. It is a denial of what makes us human, what makes us male and female, what makes us different members of the Body of Christ, having different gifts and abilities and contributions. God loves all, but He gives to each what He wills according to His inscrutable knowledge of all things and His vision of all time. So our primary job is to love: to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Not to make sure our neighbor has everything we have (yes, basic necessities), not to make our neighbor exactly like us (male and female He created them), but to love them. Love concretely, love actively. Not feelings, but actions. How will they know we are Christians? By our love (John 13.35), not by our equality.