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It’s Just, Not Fair.

Pentecost 16A 2020.

Mattthew 20:1-16

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Introduction to scripture
Scripture video
Sermon video

“It’s just not fair!”
What parent has not heard that cry of outrage?
When the older sibling is expected to share her precious stuff
with that kid brother who wrecks everything!
“It’s just not fair!”
It isn’t.
I was mildly horrified to hear myself on
the lips of my daughter the other day,
telling her outraged three year old, after he bawled
“It’s just not fair!” at some perceived injustice
She bluntly replied, not budging from her parental position,
“Life isn’t fair.”
Gulp. And I thought they never listened!
But it isn’t is it?
Life as we live it isn’t fair,
no matter how much we want it to be.
Good folk get sick.
Disasters strike one on another.
People of questionable talent and morals
get top jobs in boardrooms and governments.
It’s just not fair.
“It’s just not fair” that women are still paid 73cents
on the dollar paid to a male co-worker.
“It’s just not fair” that businesses downsize,
and then rehire on short-term contracts
with no benefits.
“It’s just not fair” that semester-by semester
adjunct faculty with no tenure tackle the brunt of university teaching.
“It’s just not fair” is a righteous complaint
of migrant workers quarantined in converted pig pens
so that they can bring in the harvest
for others (us) in the middle of a pandemic.

“It’s just not fair” that essential workers are not paid
like CEOs of transnational companies.
“It’s just not fair” that children
are made to beg on the streets of Senegal,
mine for minerals in the Congo
to fuel our phones and car batteries,
and are trafficked for sex from
Indonesia to Indianapolis, and rue S. Laurent.
“It’s just not fair” that wait staff are expected
to make up their below minimum wage with tips.
“It’s just not fair” that asylum seekers
are suddenly hire-worthy in CHSLDs,
but not worthy of faster processing of their refugee claims.
“It’s just not fair” that indigenous women and girls
count for less than white women
in healthcare provision,
and in police efforts to find them or their killers.
“It’s just not fair” that workers and producers
in developing countries have limited access
to “fair trade” purchasing policies,
and must sell product and labour for unliveably low prices.
“It’s not fair” that because of this blessed pandemic
families can’t visit their sick, bury their dead,
and we can’t gather in person in our church buildings
for a song-fest, hug-fest public worship.
God knows, it’s just not fair…
So much of life this side of heaven is just not fair.
Which is why Jesus sat Peter and co. down,
and sits us down on our couches,
and tells this parable,
this tale/tail that won’t stop wagging,
this seed thought that settles into the dark soil and soul
of our spiritual imagination
with a cute curlicue shoot
like a question mark… “what if?….”

As Jesus spins this God Dream out of
their lived experience in the military-agrarian,
often oppressive commodified economy of Rome,
where the day labourer was the single-use plastic of their day,
treated as useful and dispensable.
As he tells this tale,
almost childlike in its rhythms and repetitions,
its pantomime like predictability,
that moves inevitably parabolically
to its outrageous conclusion,
Jesus plants a “what if?”,
like a seed deep
into his listener’s yearning souls,
with the inflection of a well-placed comma,
that turns the outraged wail of the self-deserving,
“It’s just not fair!”
Into a world inverting insight
that in the economy of the Gospel,
“It’s just, not merely fair”
While so many interpreters have stepped aside
from the earthy possibility of this parable,
spiritualizing it an allegorizing it
to death as a tale about Jews
and Johnny-come-lately Christians,
or about salvation, who gets to heaven,
I just don’t buy that,
because this is a parable of the Dream of God,
that reaches back millennia into the
poetic imagination of the prophets,
schooling the Rabbi Jesus who schools us,
saying,
You know the dream;
of a life, a world, on earth, as in heaven,
where one sheep,
one child, one black life,

one indigenous life,
one snail, one spider, one star,
one nucleus of one atom
matters enough to God
that it is sought and found,
and cherished, and given whatever it needs to be.
This Dream of God,
where the mighty who are in love with their mightiness
WILL be toppled from their thrones
by the weight of their own hubris.
The Dream of God,
where justice on earth as in heaven
is focussed on the care of those least able to care for themselves,
which in biblical terms is always
the child, the orphan, the foreigner, the refugee,
the woman, the widow, the cripple, the sick.
It’s just, not merely fair.

Surely then, this parable is about
a Gospel arithmetic
where those who have enough to hire labourers
go, not once but repeatedly, to the market-square
and hire and pay everyone a basic liveable wage?
And where every worker is paid enough
to have shelter, a home, food,
and the capacity to provide for their family.
That’s just, not merely fair.
Now, these parables of the Dream of God
are dreams… they are both real and impossible
huge and tiny,
in your face and invisible,
never, not yet, and now…
Simple and demanding,

clear and elusive,
and about a holy justice
that envelopes all in the abundance
of God’s grace.
They should leave us lingering long over
what Gospel action we are called to
when we rise from this hour of worship.
What if?
What if, in the thick of this pandemic
and all its losses and uncertainties
its unravellings and revealings
of what is good and terrible about humanity,
the Dream of God
for every worker to be paid enough to live and provide,
for the rich to be generous and just
could actually happen?
What if we figured out that
losing some privilege, sharing our abundance,
following through on Jesus’ Gospel economics
will leave us not poorer,
but richer in spirit, and so much more,
because we will have figured out
that it is just.
it right. it is holy.
it is good.

What if?


For more on Universal or Guaranteed Basic Income, follow these links:
~ Hugh Segal podcast on guaranteed income.
~ The Case for Universal Basic Income (UBI) in Canada.
~ A global perspective, links for International UBI Week.
~ The Moderator’s Letter to the Prime Minister advocating for UBI, May 2020.

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