That’s not fair is a statement that has come define our culture. From the play ground to the court room being fair has do to with getting what we think we deserve. This has profound implications for parenting. Is fairness making sure each child gets the same number of minutes to play with a toy, or making sure that each child has the same number of toys to play with? Is this concept of fairness what God wants you to teach your children? Let’s see.
In Matthew 20:1-16 we find the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The owner of the vineyard sends workers out at various intervals throughout the day to work in his field. The first group started at sunrise and agreed to work for a full day for one denarius. Then he hires workers to work for 9 hours, six hours, 3 hours and finally the last group for only one hour. He tells each of the subsequent groups of workers that he will pay them what is right. Notice the landowner says he will do what is right, not what it is fair. (see vs. 4). Each group then agrees to work for what is right.
At the end of the day the workers received their pay, starting with those who were hired last. To the surprise and, I am sure, glee of the other workers, those who worked for one hour received a denarius. You can imagine the workers who were hired at sunrise calculating how much more money they would be receiving than what they agreed to.
Then they found out that they also received one denarius. Immediately the grumbling began – “you have made them equal to us.” The workers are no longer thought that what the agreed to was right. Now they wanted what they thought was fair. They had worked all day in the hot sun. These latecomers, who only worked the last hour (when the sun was going down), were paid equally with them. Perhaps the first group chose a spokesman to complain to the landowner, for in verse 13 the landowner is addressing just one of the men.
The landowner says in effect to this unhappy worker, “I have paid you what you agreed was right. I have not been unfair to you. Are you upset that I have chosen to be generous with these other workers? Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Take your pay and go home.”
This parable offers an unsettling perspective on fairness to our flesh. How can one who worked for one hour be paid the same as one who worked for 12 hours? Remember, Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven in this parable. This theme is similar to the man in Luke 12 who demanded that Jesus force his brother to share his inheritance with him. To whom Jesus replied, “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
This is the point: fairness is not determined by comparing how others are treated. Fairness is determined by what is right.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
I’ll have some practical examples in the next post.
5 thoughts on “Right or Fair”
Amen. People always have this issue of wanting what they feel is “fair”. Not what is right or just.
Great perspective. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Thank you!! My children (ages 4 and 6) have been talking about “that’s not fair” this past week. I share that when we say those words, we are only thinking of ourselves, rather than rejoicing in what our sibling (or cousin or friend) is able to have or do. Our selfish nature. Thank you for reminding me of this parable. I need this reminder personally as well. “Fairness is not determined by comparing how others are treated. Fairness is determined by what is right.” Thank you.
It never fails to amaze me how counter-cultural scripture is…….
I am a teacher and have used the line “fair does not mean equal, it means each person gets what they need”