Life is unfair!
One of the most significant challenges of life is realizing that life is unfair. Our first encounter with our humanty being unfair usually comes in grade school. The cool kid has the Avengers lunch box while I have a brown bag. The girl with the blonde hair has the best clothes, and I am wearing my sister’s hand me downs. The Johnson’s send their kids to summer camp while I must spend summer with my grandparents. Why is life so unfair!
These slights are not monumental, but the slights are real. Unfortunately, this unfairness continues into high school. Ellen made the cheerleaders while you only could get on the chess club. Mr. Ellison favors Gellack even though I am a better student that he is. The most challengng unfairness is when one sibling is the favorite of mom’s throughout her life. In the end, the feeling of being slighted or cheated is devastating.
This brings me to a scripture passage I spoke on a few years ago. It is the story of the prodigal or lost son. Luke Chapter 15 verses 11-32.
The Message version of the Bible
11-12 Then he(Jesus) said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all over that country, and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart is pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.
25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done, he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’
28-30 “The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for my friends and me? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up, and you go all out with a feast!’
31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
The youngest son had the need to go out on his own, so dad gave him his half of the land he would have inherited. The youngest probably sold the land, and he then took the money and traveled about drinking wine and finding women as companions. Unfortunately, the money ran out.
Maybe you have had to sow some wild oats of your own? Maybe you wasted some money? Maybe you invested poorly? Maybe your parents or an uncle bailed you out? I understand what it means to waste money because have experienced my lack of judgment at times.
The youngest son comes back and is hungry and depressed. He has wasted all that he was given. Interestingly enough he must have taken after his old man since as soon as the father sees his youngest son it is party time. The father has no hesitation…my youngest son is back that is all that is important spare no expense.
Unfortunately, there is an older brother. In fact, our today’s climate is such that it seems like everyone feels like the older brother.
If you had been in your older brother’s shoes, working double shifts while your younger brother lived it up, would you have gone to the party? You would have expected he would get a good scolding, yes or some clearly-defined way created by dad, to make up for all the heartache. There would be a definite period of remorse and pay back the debt. Instead, there is a party. Let’s are honest. There is something here that tweaks our sense of fairness. This just isn’t fair!
There are many theological nuggets to mine in this old story. But this is perhaps the most basic: God isn’t fair in human terms. Sorry. God doesn’t play by our rules or see life the way we see it or keep score the way we keep it. God isn’t fair. And if we’re honest, we don’t like that. Why? Because the idea of fairness has been ingrained in us from day one. Even if we have been a victim, we still yearn for the day when compassion and equality reign.
Unfortunately, God is not fair. And not only that: God has an ongoing love affair with people who screw up. God throws a party of rich food and drinks to get their attention. Jesus invites the undeserving. It is not fair, but it is done out of love. A love so strong that Jesus would violate all the societies norms of his time to love those who others did not love.
In practical modern terms, it looks like this. When Pope Francis was a priest and living in Buenos Aires, he recognized a woman who regularly came to mass over the years and brought her three children which he baptized for her. One day they were talking, and she said, Father, I want you to know you have given me much hope. Francis smiled and called her senorita a term of respect. He did that knowing that the senorita was a prostitute and that she needed to sell herself to feed her children. He gave her some extra food and a blessing because she of all people needed mercy and hope! Why? Because that is what Jesus would have done!
That is just the one side of the fairness coin so to speak. There is another side which is much more difficult. Is it fair that your child died or your spouse died? Is it fair that your sister has money and you do not? Is it fair your neighbor always seems lucky, and you still have challenges Is it fair that you have cancer and that you spend most nights afraid of what may happen next? Is that fair? No, it is not.
If the world were fair, then there would be abundant food, clean water, and resources instead of desert, dry fields, and dirty water. No one we love would die. God did not build fairness into the world. God created the world so that we can perform acts of kindness and love just as he did. The life God has envisioned for us is not one of fairness but one of love not only the people we know but people we will never see.
We are called to follow Jesus being his hands, his heart, and his words to those around us. We are called to share with the hopeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised. We are called to comfort the hurting, the mentally ill, families torn apart by war or emotions. We are called to walk with those who cannot go home because they struggle with their sexual identity or screwed up so bad no one wants them. At my former church, we have gone down to The Crib, a Night Ministry program, in Chicago to feed teenagers who are living on the street because they are not able to live at home. We will feed them, talk to them, and treat them as a person who can be loved. Maybe that is why we are called to follow Jesus because just as there were incredible needs in Jesus’ time, there are the same needs today. We can meet the needs of the people who are in need of love.
Of course, we could also wait all our lives for apologies from the people that hurt us or even an apology from God. After all, we all have beefs with God. We can wait for people to act differently and get a good paying job even though they never finished grade school so they can get off welfare. We can wait till people abandon their homosexuality before we serve them. We could wait to give to someone else when we think we have extra to give. We can disparage all the welfare recipients, the Medicaid recipients, the people living on social security who can barely afford her medicine let alone a meal as lazy or just unfortunate.
Which brings us back to the older brother. We never really know what he decides to do. Does he stay outside and protest in his stinky clothes hating both his brother and father or does he come inside realizing that everyone deserves a second chance because we all mess up. If we believe the stories in our bible everyone is forgiven not once, not twice, but seventy times seven! More importantly, if God does not judge but loves all, shouldn’t we do the same?