Tag Archives: Fairness

“What’s it to You?”

"What's it to You?" (CaD John 21) Wayfarer

When Peter saw [John], he asked [Jesus], “Lord, what about him?”
John 21:21 (NIV)

I grew up fishing with my dad, though I never acquired his love for it. I am too impatient, and was especially so when I was a kid. As a young man, both my body and imagination were too active to sit in a boat for hours waiting for fish to bite. Nevertheless, I do have great memories of doing so.

There is one day in particular that stands out. I was around eleven and Dad and I were fishing on the Canadian side of the boundary waters. We fished a couple of coves on an island we’d never fished before. Oh man, the fish were definitely biting that day. It was unlike anything I’d experienced fishing. It felt like every cast of my Johnson’s Sprite pulled in a fish. In a couple of hours we had our limit, including two or three of the largest fish we’d ever landed. And, we’d thrown a lot of them back. I’ll never forget that day.

I think of that day whenever I read about one of the miraculous catches Jesus facilitated, as in the one in today’s chapter. Jesus told the disciples to go to Galilee and wait for Him there. So they did. And, they waited, and waited, and waited, until Peter couldn’t handle waiting and decided to go fishing. All night they fished, and didn’t catch so much as a minnow. Then the dude on the shore frying up some breakfast yells out to try the right side of the boat. “Voilà!” Suddenly there’s 153 lunkers in the net and the net is too heavy to pull into the boat! I remember that shot of adrenaline and the rush of dopamine flooding through my brain that day dad and I had our big catch.

The boys know in the moment that it’s Jesus on shore cooking breakfast. Peter abandons the boys with the net, dives in, and swims to shore (Did he, perhaps, think for a faction of a second of trying to walk to Jesus on the water?).

John chooses to end his biography with one of the most interesting conversations recorded in the Great Story. Jesus asks Peter to go for a walk, and John follows. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and three times he commissions Peter to “Feed my sheep.” Peter probably didn’t even understand what Jesus was doing in that moment.

Three affirmations cover the three denials Peter uttered the night of Jesus’ arrest. “Leave your shame behind, Rocky. The Good Shepherd is heading home. You’re the shepherd in charge now.” Jesus then tells Peter to plan on a rough end to his earthly journey. He will be forcefully taken where he doesn’t want to go. He will be stretched out. As the appointed shepherd, they will crucify him, too.

Then Peter does something so human. He looks over at John and asks Jesus, “What about him?”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that we humans have a thing with equity and fairness. I love the idyllic fantasies of everything working out the same for everyone. I so easily fall down the rabbit-hole of envy and jealousy cleverly disguised as political and social righteousness. I so easily grieve when looking over at the grass that appears so much greener on another person’s lot in life.

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve had to submit to the reality that my notions of equity and fairness are not part of the Kingdom economy. That’s why Jesus responds to Peter, “What’s it to you if I have different plans for John? We’re not talking about him, we’re talking about you, Peter. You each have a part to play in this Great Story but the roles are different, your lives and experiences will be different, and your deaths will be different. Peter, you’ll die about thirty years before him. The Romans are going to crucify you. John will live to old age, be exiled to an island, and pen the visions given to him of the final chapters of the Great Story. What’s it to you?”

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a follower of Jesus is that my focus is to be on God’s Kingdom, even on this earthly journey. Not checking-out and biding my time, but rather bringing a Kingdom perspective and mission to all that I am, think, say, and do. Jesus said to “set my heart on things above,” which means my earthly perspective has to change.

Like Peter, I have a journey to walk and a mission to accomplish, but I’ve had to let go of the notion that everyone’s journey looks like mine, or that my mission is going to look exactly like someone else’s. My father was beautifully and wonderfully made to be a gifted accountant, artisan, and patient fisherman. I’m not anything like that, so what’s it to me if dad’s journey looks different than mine, or mine looks different than his?

The good news, Jesus promised, is an equitable eternal homecoming where there is no more sorrow, or pain, or envy, or jealousy. Until then, like Peter, I’m called to contentedly walk my own journey and allow others to walk theirs, even if it appears to me that their journey is better, or easier, or more fun, or [place your favorite envy descriptor here]. I have come to believe that when I look back from eternity, I will see how wrong our human perceptions were with regard to what a “good” life looked like on this world, and also believe my eyes will be opened see all the “good” I experienced but never really saw or appreciated.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Greater Than Fair

“Truly I tell you,” [Jesus] continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Luke 4:24-27 (NIV)

There are many things I don’t understand in this world. Along my life journey, I have regularly been perplexed at the seeming lack of fairness in life. Like most contemplatives, I am perplexed as to why one person experiences great fortune and another person experiences great tragedy. Even as a follower of Jesus, I have been struck at the incredible diversity in stories and spiritual paths. One person’s life journey appears to be a stroll down Easy Street while another’s is a painful slog down a muddy path riddled with potholes, switchbacks, and roadblocks.

In today’s chapter, Jesus not only acknowledges this reality but also affirms it. As we pick up the story after Jesus is baptized by John, He heads on a sojourn into the wilderness where He successfully overcomes the temptations of the Evil One. Then follows the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and things get off to a great start. Everyone loves his teaching. He speaks with spiritual authority no one has ever heard before.

Then Jesus comes to His hometown of Nazareth. He quotes an ancient prophecy from Isaiah that proclaims the coming of the Messiah who will bring good news to the poor, make the blind see, and set prisoners free.

But not for you,” Jesus says to His long-time friends and neighbors. No miracles for you. He goes on to explain that there is this longstanding spiritual theme in the Great Story in which prophets are never honored in their hometowns. He references Elijah who could have healed any one of his homeboys but instead heals the son of a foreign widow in Phoenicia. Likewise, Jesus states, the prophet Elisha could have healed any leper in his local Jewish leper colony but instead heals a Syrian leper.

This lesson did not sit well with the hometown crowd. This wasn’t fair. So, they attempted to kill Him. It wouldn’t be the last time Jesus’ message ended with death threats rather than any kind of spiritual transformation in His audience. He doesn’t seem concerned. Perhaps for the first time in His ministry, it seems that there is something bigger at stake that Jesus is trying to get at.

What I find fascinating about this episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry is that it so perfectly foreshadows what was going to happen at the end of it. It will be His own people who reject Him and hand Him over for execution. When this happens, Jesus will again reference the recurring theme of His people killing their own prophets throughout their storied history. Jesus also foreshadows that, after His resurrection and ascension, His “Good News” would miraculously explode across the non-Jewish, foreign Gentile population that His own people despised (which is the story told in the book of Acts).

The other reality I cannot escape in this episode is that, on a purely human level, it isn’t fair. A group of people won’t experience Jesus’ miracles. Their demon-possessed children won’t be released. There won’t be a miraculous transformation of tap water into Tempranillo to keep the wine flowing and the reception going at his Nazareth neighbor’s wedding. And, all of these things won’t happen just because Nazareth happens to be Jesus’ hometown? It isn’t fair.

In the quiet this morning I am pondering the fact that Jesus never promised fairness. I searched for it this morning just to double-check. Jesus never said that He came to bring fairness. Of course, He also wouldn’t experience fairness either. He would be unfairly accused, unfairly tried, and unfairly executed. It would seem logical to me to assume that I should not then expect fairness in my following of Jesus either. And, some will choose not to follow Jesus for this very reason. That was the reaction of Jesus’ hometown entourage. I observe people making the same choice today.

But what if fairness isn’t the point? What if my earthly journey is about something purposed which is far greater than what appears on the surface? What if there is a spiritual economy that is, in the grand scheme, actually more real than the temporal experience of my five earthly senses and my base human appetites? In my almost forty-year study of Jesus’ life and teachings, I find that Jesus’ came not to make life fair, but to exemplify love and call us to follow that example. And love isn’t fair. Love sacrifices all that it has, and is generously extravagant, and almost always receives an inequitable return on the investment. I believe that’s what Jesus came to show me, and in doing so He points me to something greater; He leads me to faith in the understanding that the eternal which I cannot touch, taste, see, smell, or hear is far greater and actually more real than any fair thing on this earth.

And so, I keep following.

Faith, Following, and Fairness

Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’
Matthew 20:15 (NASB)

During my lifetime I have observed that fairness and equality have increasingly become societal expectations. There are certainly worthwhile issues to be addressed and ills to be confronted, but I have observed that expectations of fairness and equality can easily expand to encompass almost every area of life. It seems at time as though we want same-ness. Everyone should have the same, make the same, look the same, enjoy the same.

On my spiritual journey I have come to accept that the overarching fairness I observe us striving for does not exist in God’s economy. Everyone has access to the Life, love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness which Jesus purchased through His death and resurrection. Once on the path of following Jesus, however, I discover that God never promised that all followers would all enjoy the same lot in life, be called to the same path, or have the same purpose. In fact, God’s self-revelation gives evidence to infinite and creative diversity in being, calling, giftedness, purpose, and experience. The Trinity itself reveals unity in diversity; Three distinct persons – One God.

In today’s chapter Jesus tells a simple parable that addresses this very issue. A vineyard owner hires workers throughout the day. Some in early morning, late morning, noon, afternoon, and some more for the last hour of the work day. The owners agreed to pay them each the same wage. At the end of the day the laborers who worked all day are indignant that the workers who only worked one-hour received the same amount of money.

Hire a lawyer! Call the Labor Board! Organize a union!

That’s not fair!

But, Jesus points out that each laborer readily agreed to the wage when they began. The issue, then, was not the fairness of the employer but the envy of the workers.

In find it ironic that Matthew follows this parable with the story of Jesus’ own disciples having conflict over who among them were Jesus’ favorites and who would get positions of honor in God’s Kingdom. Jesus response matched the parable He’d just told: “Don’t worry about each other’s rewards; Focus on the job you’ve each been called to do.” 

This morning I am reminded once again that my job is not to concern myself with comparisons to everyone else. My focus is to be on my personal relationship with God, existing in the flow of God’s Spirit, faithfully walking the path God places before me, and fulfilling my role to the best of my ability. When I embrace and embody my unique person and purpose, I contribute to the unity of God’s Kingdom.

Things I Can’t Control and Things I Can

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.
1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV)

It is hard, I believe, to understand with our 21st century experience what daily life was like for those who followed Jesus in the days of Paul and Timothy. I have often heard individuals criticize the fact that God’s Message does not specifically condemn slavery, and those arguments come to mind when reading today’s chapter. I have a lot of historical, cultural, and contextual thoughts about why this is the case. Nevertheless, I will admit that it’s only one of many questions I have about the things God says and the subjects on which He chooses to be silent.

What I take from today’s chapter, however, is a human challenge that is as relevant today as it has ever been. At different waypoints along life’s journey we will all find ourselves in situations we cannot escape and that will not be fair. It could be a situation at work, a family relationship, life tragedy, or a legal obligation.  Sometimes in life we are powerless to change our circumstances.

Paul’s entreaty to those who follow Jesus was to manage those things that we can control in otherwise unmanageable situations. We can choose how we act, how we respond to others, what words we choose to use, how we will think, and the attitudes with which we will approach a situation.

Paul was powerless to change slavery in his day. It would be 1800 years before humanity began to address that issue in earnest and it still plagues our fallen world today. What Paul, and his friends who were slaves, could address was how they lived their lives each day within their given circumstances.

Today I am reminded that I cannot always control my circumstances, but I can control my mind, my tongue, my eyes, my ears, my feet and my hands. What I choose to do with them is what matters.

chapter a day banner 2015

Hard Questions

One person dies in full vigor,
     completely secure and at ease,
well nourished in body,
     bones rich with marrow.
Another dies in bitterness of soul,
     never having enjoyed anything good.
Side by side they lie in the dust,
     and worms cover them both.
Job 21:23-26 (NIV)

Life is not fair.

Once again this morning I read the words of Job and the scabs of my own soul wound itch. My decision to read Job during this season is not the result of some thorough process of reason. I simply saw that it had been several years since we’ve read it and thought it would be good to revisit the epic poem. What’s interesting to me is that, at this point in life’s journey, I find Job taking me back to thoughts and feelings Wendy and I experienced in the darkest days of our journey through the valley of infertility. What I’m discovering is that it is a different facet on the same stone of suffering that Job is experienced.

Job sees a person with everything going for them cut down in the prime of life while another person lives a long life of bitterness and misery. How does this make sense?

I have asked similar questions.

I look around.
The victim of rape has a child.
The teen drug addict has a child.
The woman with no job, no husband, and three kids on welfare has another child.
The woman over there is on her sixth child in nine years.

I read God’s story.
Sarah finally had a child.
Leah finally had a child.
Ruth finally had a child.
Hannah finally had a child.
Elizabeth finally had a child.
A virgin girl had a child.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason…

Life is not fair.

Today, I find myself once again sitting with Job amidst hard questions and seeking God in the mystery of it.

Chapter-a-Day Matthew 27

Antonio Ciseri's depiction of Pontius Pilate p...
Image via Wikipedia

But when the accusations rained down hot and heavy from the high priests and religious leaders, he said nothing. Pilate asked him, “Do you hear that long list of accusations? Aren’t you going to say something?” Jesus kept silence—not a word from his mouth. The governor was impressed, really impressed. Matthew 27:14 (MSG)

Along stretches of the journey, I’ve been accused of different things. From silly to mildly slanderous, I’ve been charged in the court of public opinion with things of which I was innocent. To be honest, some times the charges were fabrications made because of things I actually had done. I’ve made my share of mistakes. Still, it’s never easy to sense whispers behind your back when you know that what is being said is completely untrue.

There is a small toy turtle that sits on a shelf in our house. It was acquired during one particular rough stretch and it became an enduring word picture for pressing on in such times. The quiet turtle never makes a fuss. He guards his heart inside a tough shell and keeps making his way in small incremental movements forward. Like the turtle in the old fable, I am reminded by the little turtle on the shelf that  “slow and steady wins the race.”

I was reminded by Jesus’ response to His accusers in today’s chapter. Of anyone ever accused in all of history, Jesus had more reason to cry “foul” than anyone else. Despite the mocking, jeering, and insults he quietly endured. Turning the other cheek is not an act of passivity, but a conscious act of the will which requires strength of character.

Jesus trials and death sentence is the ultimate example of how fickle the court of public opinion can be. It blows hither and thither with any number of prevailing winds which have little to do with truth or fairness. Sometimes, the best way to respond is by silently moving forward step-by-step and day-by-day and allowing time to reveal what is ultimately true.

Enhanced by Zemanta