‘It‘s not fair!’
Msgr. Michael Woster
Homily from the Televised Mass, NewsCenter1
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 24, 2023
This week’s Gospel follows from last week’s. You may recall last weekend we cried out with St. Peter, “It’s not fair,” when we learned how many times God expects us to forgive our neighbor. And with the workers in the Gospel today who labored all day in the heat and the sun, and who were paid the same as those who worked only for an hour, we cry out again with them, “It’s not fair.”
This is a phrase that we hear a lot in the course of any given day, isn’t it? Children on the playground shout “that’s not fair” when they detect a foul play. At home, we hear our children shouting to their siblings “My chores are more difficult. That’s not fair.” Or when sister’s piece of pie is perceived to be bigger, “Mom, it’s not fair.”
But we adults have our fair share of “It’s not fair!” When someone at work receives a raise in salary when we think we deserve it more, “It’s not fair!” As we struggle with the economy, spending and taxes these days, controversies in our politics, and the issues on the border, listen carefully to how many times we use “It’s not fair.” Sometimes we hear this directly and sometimes it’s disguised in a very clever adult language and verbiage, but it’s there.
In each of these examples, human sensibilities regarding fairness have been offended, precisely because of the fact they are human sensibilities. Each of us has a sense of what is and what is not fair and sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes there might be a legitimate reason for our feelings. Sometimes, from God’s point of view, it’s not. So therefore, when confronted with a situation such as that which is put before us in today’s Gospel, a parable of identical wages for un-identical hours of work, we tend to cry out, “I don’t get it. That’s not fair.”
Isaiah, in our first reading today, warned us of this problem some three thousand years ago when he said, “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways.” Most of us are grateful for this theological truth when we occasionally have the insight that God has certainly been more patient, more kind, more generous with us than we know we deserve. But when it comes to God giving a break to someone else whom we judge to be undeserving, well often our attitude is quite different.
When you look at it this way, it is easy to see that the parable Jesus shares with us today is intimately connected with the one last week which spoke of the wicked servant who had been forgiven much by the master for his errors but was not willing to forgive his fellow servant for his errors. The master was not amused by this and punished the wicked servant quite severely for his refusal to be compassionate to his fellow servant.
And so maybe our conclusion today is simply this: the simple take-away is when you and I hear ourselves saying, “it’s not fair,” to pause, stop, and think hard just for a moment. Maybe we are right. Maybe the situation really is not fair. But maybe, just maybe, it’s a case of God’s way not being our way and thus, teaching us something about divine mercy, divine love, divine forgiveness, and divine generosity, which the Lord expects us to show to others.
Something to think about anyway.