“That’s not fair!” is what every child learns to repeat after acquiring the least bit of comprehension about how justice works. It’s not fair that their sister gets more ice cream. It’s not fair that they have to do more work than their brother. Within the juvenile mind, fairness is just an over-simplified understanding of equality. But they will learn soon enough that equality is a far more elusive ideal, than first imagined. Because in a world full of people with disparities of intellect, talent, and physical appearance – it becomes quickly apparent that we have all been designed to be uniquely different individuals . . . in direct defiance of any homogenizing attempt we might impose on our distinguishing differences.
In a perverse sense of equality — we’re regularly tempted to compare ourselves with everyone else — invariably leading us into various permutations of covetousness . . . we either want what they have, or we just want what they have taken from them. But this temptation to compare isn’t always an obvious form of envy or schadenfreude, as it often takes on the more self-righteous sanctimony of moral superiority. For instance, in the Gospels we find the Pharisees, who are a perfect example of this haughtily self-important comparative dynamic — always careful to point out how others don’t quite measure up . . . so that by comparison, they come off looking better.
And for those who already feel they don’t measure up, who feel inadequate — they invariably succumb to the tyranny of this type of comparison, willing to place themselves on the anvil of those seeking to hammer them into conformity. Cowed into believing that conformity and compliance will somehow pave the way to a more equitable society. Funny, but that’s not really how Jesus treated those on the margins of acceptable cultural behavior. They experienced no morally comparative judgement, in the presence of Jesus – only compassion. For they knew full well where they were broken, so they didn’t require a critical eye to point out what was obvious – they needed a loving hand willing enough to touch them where they were broken.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tips the paradigm of comparative equality on its head. He likens the kingdom of heaven to an owner of a vineyard who pays all of his laborers the same daily wage regardless of the time of day each laborer began their work. And everyone who reads this passage, invariably hears their inner child screaming “that’s not fair!” Because the self-preservation of our fallen nature has us convinced that if we don’t demand what we’re entitled to, then we’re going to be cheated. That’s right, we’re going to get our fair share, and we’re only going to work as hard as everyone else, to get it.
So we keep an eye on one another, in a perpetual state of comparative evaluation . . . having accepted as reasonable our self-imposed prison of merit. While all along, it is the self-emptying love of Christ that bids us to gaze upon the cross, instead. For it is the injustice of Jesus, an innocent man crucified, trampling down death by death, where any ledger we have imagined is being kept, and held over us, is completely obliterated. So let your eyes be fixed on this mystery, that you may be so transfixed by it . . . so that nothing else, by comparison, would even matter.
O Lord, lead us on . . .