Preached at a World Day of Prayer Service in Fergus, ON on March 3, 2017
I have a friend in hospice right now, dying of lung cancer.
How many of you automatically thought, even for just a second, “He shouldn’t have smoked!”? We humans tend to want to blame the circumstances of others on actions they have or have not taken.
My friend has never smoked a day in his life. To my knowledge, he didn’t work with asbestos, either. He was just very, very unlucky.
We want to judge, because we want to believe that life is fair, and that everything we have is due to our own stellar efforts, and that everything others lack is due to their own faults, and not unjust systems or random misfortune. We want the world to be fair, because we feel safer that way.
But life is not fair, and I often have to remind myself of that, both when things aren’t going well, and when they are going well.
I used to hate the fact that I’d been born a girl. I wanted to do “boy” things, like play football and go to university and walk on the moon. But I was lucky. I was born in Canada, in 1960, to Caucasian parents who were married, stayed together, and who had steady work from their early twenties right into retirement. By the time I reached my twenties, the attitude of Canadians towards female involvement in society had changed considerably, and I was well-equipped to take advantage of it.
I did nothing to deserve the circumstances of my birth. I didn’t choose my parents, I didn’t choose my nationality, I didn’t choose my year of birth. It just happened, and it didn’t have anything to do with fairness.
Other young women have not been so lucky.
We’ve heard stories today told by women in the Philippines. That these women were born poor, in a populous, poor nation that is subject to natural disasters was none of their doing.
The Philippines is a nation of interesting contrast. They have some of the most progressive laws in the books legislating the equality of women; they have had for decades a specific government agency responsible for the status of women. They have had elected women presidents. And yet inequality remains.
Despite the fact that Filipino women have higher literacy rates than Filipino men, and tend to have a better education, they remain clustered at the bottom of the job market.
One in five Filipino women is subject to domestic violence. Although strides have been made, human trafficking remains a problem. And in 2011, the maternal mortality rate was 221 per 100,000 live births. The comparable rate for Canada is 12.
Is this fair?
In today’s parable, it really isn’t fair that the workers who started at six in the morning and worked for twelve hours in the blistering sun got the same daily wage as the ones who started at five o’clock and worked for one hour.
No wonder they grumbled—I’d grumble too if I’d worked all day and received the same as someone who’d only worked a short time. Why, I might have stayed home and gotten my laundry done! I might have slept in! There are so many things I might have done with that time! And those lollygaggers were just standing around in the square, loafing about, while I worked.
Maybe some of them did sleep in. Maybe some of them were laughing and joking about while I was working.
But maybe some of them were standing there, worried sick because if they didn’t get work today, their kids wouldn’t eat tonight. Maybe they didn’t arrive at the marketplace until nine-thirty because they had to get breakfast for the kids and the husband before they went off to school and work respectively, and sweep the hearth, and help their aging mothers to get dressed and settled in their chairs with some knitting or a good book to keep them happy.
Or maybe they didn’t arrive until after noon because they had a second job cleaning the house of a rich person so that at the end of the month they had enough money in the bank to pay the rent and the hydro bill.
Or maybe they didn’t arrive until almost five o’clock because they were in school, trying to get a nursing degree so that they could get a better, more stable job.
But the landowner knows that whether we are goofing off or working hard trying to better ourselves, we all still need to eat, we all still need to feed and house and clothe our families.
God isn’t about fairness. God isn’t about tallying up what we deserve or don’t deserve and dishing it out to us.
God is about generosity, about giving us all a chance to begin again and again and again no matter how many times we mess up, and about allowing us all an equal share in the abundance of God’s realm.
That’s really good news, because despite the fact that we all want to believe that life is fair and that we got where we are due to our own efforts, we all know that at times we’ve done wrong, and we all have, in the back of our minds the fear, or even the certain knowledge, that we aren’t worthy of the grace we’ve been shown in Christ Jesus.
God grants us that grace anyways.
One day, I sat in my living room and listened to the story of a man who would soon be serving time in jail for operating a grow-op and selling drugs. This tattooed biker, this six-foot-tall, strong man cried when he told me that his Christian father had disowned him and told him that God didn’t love him any more and that he was going to Hell.
I told him that his father had lied. God still loves him, as God loves all creation. God still waits for him to show up to the marketplace so that God can invite him into the vineyard. And when my friend does show up in the vineyard, he’ll receive the same daily wage as those of us who have been there all along.
Friends, let’s stop lying to ourselves and to each other. Let’s stop pretending that God’s grace is something we or others earn. Let’s stop pretending that our riches have been earned solely by our own efforts, and that others are poor because they’re lazy or wasteful or whatever. Let’s stop pretending that God’s love has limits, and that only those who look and behave and believe like we do are invited to God’s party.
When we go from this place, let us instead be models of God’s generosity and love. Let us get to know our neighbours. Let us hear their stories, understand their points of view. And let us always spread the Good News that if they want to be part of the family, all they have to do is show up.