“But that’s not fair!” This is a familiar phrase to any parent, teacher, and anyone else who has spent more than about 2 minutes around kids. You’ve heard it and you know the tone it’s said in. It is whining. In fact I don’t think you can say the phrase without a whiny tone. It is the ultimate example of complaining. And you know the response. ”Life’s not fair.”
If the first statement is the ultimate in whining, that reply may very well be the ultimate in indifference. You might as well have said “Oh, are you upset? I’m sorry. Here let me get you a straw, so you can suck it up.”
We don’t like
inequality feeling cheated. We want to make it sound like we are concerned with justice and fairness; but honestly we really only say “but that’s not fair” when things aren’t working out in our favor.
I remember hearing those 3 dreaded words in response to my own whining as a kid. ”Life’s not fair.” I was always tempted to reply with something like “Well, that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to make it better. And what better place to start than right here, right now, with my issue.” I never did say anything though. I figured if someone was that indifferent to
justice my issue, they would probably not appreciate back talk either.
Looking back though I see how self-centered that was. I know it sounds noble getting everyone doing their part to work towards ending injustice. But, really? With all the issues in the world, from kids going hungry, war, slavery etc. the best place I could find to start as with the fact that Timmy got a bigger piece of cake than me? I should have seen that justice wasn’t what I was focused on. My concern was for myself. I wasn’t upset that the pieces weren’t the same size, I was upset I didn’t get the big piece.
In Matthew 20 Jesus tells a story about some people in a similar situation. A man owned a vineyard and needed some people to work it. He went out, found some people, and agreed to pay them a fair wage for the day. They went to work. As they day goes on the owner continues to hire people to work, agreeing to pay them a fair rate. He even hires a group of workers with only one hour left in the work day. When the day closes he calls all the workers to pay them, starting with those hired last. And a funny thing happens. He pays those who only worked an hour the same rate he agreed to pay those he hired in the morning.
So obviously, those who were hired first figure they will be getting more, a bonus of sorts. But when they are paid they find they received exactly the same as those hired last. And they cry out “but that’s not fair.” They worked all day and got the same pay as those who only worked an hour! How can that be? The owner responds, and tells them; actually it is fair. He paid them exactly what they agreed to. If he chooses to be generous with others, that is up to him. After all it is his money; he can do what he likes with it.
When I think about it, those complaining workers weren’t concerned about justice. They were upset because, well, they didn’t get the biggest piece of cake. They were obsessed with looking out for their own needs and best interest.
And so, Jesus reminds us, that the last will be first, and the first will be last. That is, we need to learn to think and live differently; backwards to what we know. Instead of being obsessed with our needs and looking out for our own interests, we are called to put the needs of others first, and to live generously. This is bigger than making share everyone gets “their fair share.” This is about making sure there is a big piece of cake, and then making sure someone else gets it. Someone overlooked and in need. What is even crazy is when we do this, and make ourselves less, Jesus says we have achieved true greatness. We are first in his eyes.