So I am pretty sure I am not the only parent who experiences the ongoing argument amongst children about what the other person gets versus what they receive. It goes pretty much like this, “Well Charlotte got one, so why can’t I?” Or “But Amelia had a longer turn, why can’t I?” Sound familiar. . .
In today’s Gospel we read about the dream employer it would seem. Here is a landowner who seems to be very generous with hiring almost anyone who needs a job. The work is the same as everyone else and everyone gets the same wage, regardless of when they started working in the day. Sounds great, but we can anticipate the argument that would naturally emerge. “How come I get the same pay as the guy who came at the end of the day?” It doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem fair that someone who works 8-10hrs a day should receive the same amount as someone who only worked 3hrs. Clearly this is an employer who is not paying by the hour or any other logical system that we may be familiar with.
This is a gospel that stirs up for us questions about what is right and wrong, what is fair and just. This is a gospel that urges us to reflect deeply on questions about equality and entitlement. This is an interesting question to ponder: “Is what is right, always fair? Does fairness and what is right go hand in hand?” Often when thinking about what is the most equitable option, we think in terms of fairness. Everyone gets the same hourly rate for the hours that they worked. When standing in line to be served, we receive equal portions of food. Everyone gets the same, no more or less than anyone else. When we think in terms of right, we often associate this to distinguish between two opposing options. Most typically what is right and what is wrong; following the rules of the road, safety codes and other laws and policies for example.
But we soon realise that often there are times and situations that are much more complex than distinguishing between right and wrong and what is fair. Often we are in positions where we have to distinguish between what is the just option and the search for justice. When it comes to issues of abuse, oppression and crimes against humanity, we naturally gravitate towards what is just. These decisions focus on building people up and restoring them to a place and position where they have an equal opportunity as anyone else.
Today as we gather for worship, people from all across the Lower Mainland are participating in the Walk for Reconciliation. For me the Walk to Reconciliation captures the essence of what reconciliation is about. Reconciliation is a complex issue that cannot be achieved overnight or in a short period of time and is closely linked to questions of justice. Reconciliation is a journey that is often long with many twists and turns. This is a journey where we often make a wrong turn and have to make our way pack to the path that sometimes is less clear with many more bumps and twists than we first imagined. We are humbled as we recognize that we are not perfect and that despite our best efforts we can still make mistakes. This is a journey where we are not alone, but are in good company of others who are struggling with their own identity and mortality. We are on this journey together regardless of our background or the privileges we may or may not have enjoyed.
For those of us who are in the position of privilege in this context we walk alongside those who have suffered and continue to suffer from prejudice and racism as allies and people who are in a position to influence great change. The fact that we enjoy certain privileges gives us power in society that others do not have through no fault of their own. This is something we are all called to do through our baptism, to hunger and thirst for justice in the face of inequality and prejudice and racism.
Reconciliation and the Walk for Reconciliation surpass what is right and wrong, what is fair and unfair. This is a question about justice and restorative justice and the ways in which we as a Church and society can restore people to wholeness. Our journey is a quest for restorative justice. As a Church and citizens of this great country we are called to examine how we collectively live together. Who has access to resources and who does not? When we find the imbalances in our society it is up to us, the Church, to do what we do when we are at our best and hold these imbalances up to the light where they are given the chance to be changed for the good of the whole People of God. When it comes to issues of justice, right and wrong and fairness is seldom a useful lens. Rather what is more helpful is for us to reframe the question and ask ourselves and society, what do we need to do to be made whole again?
The landowner in our Gospel today is on to something. His frame of reference and focus is on how to make people whole. What does that person, or the person next in line need to be made whole? The landowner recognizes that while equal pay is important, every worker needs the same amount to be able to enjoy the same quality of life as any other.
Like the landowner, we have a God who we worship and obey who thirsts for wholeness and the restoration of all people to wholeness. Pray that we the People of God may be a Church that stops at nothing until everyone is able to enjoy the same privilege and quality of life as everyone else.