Being the first child in my family system, I tend to scoff at the idea of fairness and the concept of being “deserving”. When you are a first child you tend to believe in the school of hard knocks, and that hard work will get you to where you want to go. Most first children are driven a little harder by their parents, given less chances to fail because they are the “first born”. I remember distantly growing up wondering how my little sister got away with so many more things than I did. I always felt like my parents cut me zero slack when she in turn seemed to be able to say more and do more before she got in trouble. In fairness, this was likely more perception than reality, but it did form the way I looked at the world.
My wife is a middle child. She is concerned and even obsessed with the idea of fairness amongst the kids. She is more the advocate for equality and making sure everyone has as much as the other. In my mind this is foolishness (tongue and cheek, folks) because that isn’ t my experience.
Being Americans, we suffer from the same problem. While all of us are not first children in our family system, we are a part of the first world system. Since we have been a part of the most prosperous nation on the face of the planet, we tend to have a worldview of a first child. Fairness, equality, and the idea that others might deserve more than us comes across as more heresy than ideal.
In God’s kingdom all of these things are upside down. Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you get the most money. If you worship the right way, it doesn’t mean God cares any more for you than anyone else. There are no favorite, no “chosen”, no winners and losers.
This week we will look at systems of inequality and injustice through the lens of the Kingdom of God and ask:
Who are the deserving?
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.”
The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.
But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed.
Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”
“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”
Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
A psalm of praise of David.
I will exalt you, my God and King,
and praise your name forever and ever.
I will praise you every day;
yes, I will praise you forever.
Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
No one can measure his greatness.
Let each generation tell its children of your mighty acts;
let them proclaim your power.
I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor
and your wonderful miracles.
Your awe-inspiring deeds will be on every tongue;
I will proclaim your greatness.
Everyone will share the story of your wonderful goodness;
they will sing with joy about your righteousness.
The Lord is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
Father, allow me to see the places I feel entitled
I know my heart is corrupt and I want things for myself
Let me see who is truly deserving
All the while understanding it might be me, but for better reasons
Keep us honest as we seek out what is true about your kingdom.