Judging Fairness and Forgiveness
What is the connection between fairness, generosity, forgiveness, and complaining? The easy answer is they relate to Sunday's parables, of course! On Sunday we will read the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18: 23-35) and the parable of the Vineyard Laborers (Matthew 20: 1-15).
In the Unmerciful Servant, an authoritative executive calls in those who work for them to settle accounts. When one person cannot repay his account and begs forbearance before punishment, the entire debt is wiped away. Are the other workers envious witnessing this generosity? Were their debts also forgiven or did they have to pay back their accounts? We do not know, but one who had been deeply in the red is now raised up to having simply nothing, and in his thankfulness harasses one of his peers for monies owed him. It is easy to slip into the story as one of the crowd of workers who call out for the blood of their fellow. "He is terrible!" they, and we, say, "After he was forgiven so much, he cannot extend the same courtesy to another. Outrageous! Hypocrite!" We stand in judgment of both the actions of the boss unforgiving the original debt, and also our colleague who cannot extend forbearance to another.
In the parable of the vineyard laborers, we encounter a tale with a main character who does not seem to understand the concept of "A Fair Dollar for a Fair Day's Work" from the nineteen thirties. At the beginning of the tale, there is a good chance that the wage agreed upon in the brief collective bargaining is slightly under market value, but they agree to it and get to work. The next group of workers agrees to a "fair wage", as do each of the successive groups, including the group that works for about an hour. At the end of the workday, every worker, regardless of how long they worked, is paid the same total amount. The workers who labored all day in the sun cry out "UNFAIR", even though they received the exact amount that was agreed upon at the beginning of the day. Do you identify with anyone in this parable? Who is it, and why? Can you name people represented by the rest of the cast of characters?
Ultimately, both of these parables hold up a mirror to us as we stand in judgment of peers, colleagues, people we see as having positions of authority, and people we see as somehow beneath ourselves. As we judge, though, so will we be judged. Perhaps the real lesson of these parables is to leave the judging to God, even if we think God got it wrong.
Those "eleventh hour" workers? Perhaps the owner simply remembered Deuteronomy 24:14-15: You must not keep back the wages of a man who is poor and needy, whether a fellow-countryman or an alien living in your country in one of your settlements. Pay him his wages on the same day before sunset, for he is poor and he relies on them: otherwise he may appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be guilty of sin.
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd