Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thank God life isn't fair...

...or, perhaps I should say, that the Kingdom of God isn't fair. The sermon this morning was on Matthew 20:1-16, the "Laborers in the Vineyard." For any random strangers who happen across my blog (I wish?), in this passage Jesus relates a story of a man who needed workers in his vineyard, who went out and hired people. First he hired people early in the morning, telling them he'd give them a denarius for their day's work. Many Bibles have a footnote here saying that a denarius is equal to about a day's pay, but according to our pastor, it was the day's pay for a Roman soldier, so it was really doing pretty good for a day laborer. Anyway, then he goes out again at the third hour (halfway between sunrise and noon) and hires more workers. He asks them why they're standing there, they say that no one has hired them yet, and so he hires them, says he'll pay them what's fair. He does this again at noon, halfway between noon and sunset, and at the eleventh hour, which is five-ish -- an "hour," or, in those times, a twelfth of the day, before sunset. Then he pays them. To make a point, he pays the last people first. He gives them each a denarius, which gets the first people excited, since he should be paying them more, right? But he doesn't. He pays everyone a denarius. They complain that it's not fair, he says it's what they agreed to, and why should they complain because he's generous with his money?

As I listened there were several images and phrases sort of stuck in my head, and I figured I could get them out by writing them down. Getting Things Done points out that you shouldn't bother thinking about the same things over several times, trying to remember them, when you can write them down and use your brain to think of new things. I've noticed this with working on stories, too -- no matter how long I think about a story, I come up with much more once I start writing it down, because otherwise I seem to unconsciously be struggling to remember what I have so far rather than creating more. So.

First, I kept thinking of customers at the used bookstore. If there are two copies of the same book in the same condition at two different prices, say, $5 and $8, and the customer wants both for some reason, almost without fail he or she will assume that they should get both of them for $5. It doesn't occur to anyone that maybe the mistake was on the $5 book, and they're actually getting a pretty good deal already, without any arguing.

Unfairness in a postive direction...

Marcus once says in Babylon 5 something like this (I'm not looking it up to get the exact wording...), "It used to bother me how unfair the world is. Then I thought how awful it would be if everything bad that happened to us actually happened to us because we deserve it, and now I take great comfort in the general unfairness of the world."

There's a song... when I first heard these lines they caught me and I kept thinking about them. Now I can't remember them as well, or which song it is, or who sings it (DC Talk?), but I remember that I thought about it once and the general sense of it. Something like, "[...?] we get what we don't deserve. [...?] we don't get what we deserve."

At the end of the sermon J.T. used an illustration that I liked. He compared God to the night sky, full of stars. No matter how much you look at it and enjoy it, you can't lessen someone else's enjoyment of it. It's still always there, in its boundless beauty.

And in the end, all of us are like those laborers hired at the eleventh hour, no matter when we become Christians. None of us get what we deserve. We all get what we don't deserve. Unfairness in the positive direction; amazing, overflowing mercy and grace. That's the Kingdom of God.

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