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Unfair! (Matthew 10:1-16)
With me would you furrow your brow, wrinkle your nose, scrunch together your eyebrows, clench your fist, snarl and say, "Unfair!" Unfair! Some things just aren't fair!
When I was in the fourth grade, I had it made. I was the "teacher's pet." I was the teacher's pet because I did everything necessary to be her favorite. I enjoyed all the privileges indicative of my status of merited favoritism. I dusted the erasers and I took messages to the office, until Dennis Houk moved to Walnut Park Grammar School. Then he quickly became "teacher's pet" and assumed my former status.
It wasn't because Dennis was good. He was as mean as a striped snake. He was always pulling Kay Lester's hair, knocking books out of others' hands, and introduced us to a few "words" he had learned from his older brothers. I don't know why he became Mrs. Wright's favorite. Maybe she liked him better than she did me, or he was more fun-loving, or maybe it was easier to give him something to do to try to keep him out of trouble. But he became teacher's pet. Some things just aren't fair.
When I was fifteen, I had it made. My life was centered around three things: band, baseball, and Janice. I was a member, third chair trombone, of the Emma Sansom High School Rebel Marching Band -- V.F.W. National Champions three years running. I also was the third baseman on the Alabama City Bank Pony League Baseball Team, defending League Champions with a 20-1 record. And there was Janice, a majorette in the band and my girl friend.
Life was good until one day Dad came in and said, "All right, crew, pack it up. We are moving to Boaz, Alabama." I said, "Boaz, Alabama? You've got to be kidding, Dad!" He said, "Well, really it is not Boaz, Alabama. It is Route 5, Boaz, Alabama. It's Sardis, Alabama!" I said, "Daddy, not Sardis! They don't even has a baseball team and their band can't blow their nose. Surely not, Dad! Surely not!" Unfair!
But we moved away. Someone else sat third chair, someone else played third base, and someone else married Janice. Don't you sometimes get tired of the people up there who make decisions that are dropped down on us, and we have to do what they say whether we want to or not? Some things just aren't fair!
From 1973 to 1983, I dreamed about the First Baptist Church of Gardendale. That was the church God was going to give to me! When an opportunity arose, I would drive by and lust after that pastorate. During a youth service in my church, the guest speaker -- unaware of my envious dream -- turned to me and said, "Did you know that the pastor of Gardendale resigned this morning? You know, you would make an excellent pastor for that church. My parents are influential there. I am going to recommend you!"
"Thank you, Lord! My dreams are Your dreams."
Three months later, I gazed into the congregation and, sure enough, there sat the Pastor Selection Committee of the First Baptist Church of Gardendale. I preached a stem-winder of a sermon. I was never better! The music was great, the service was spiritually moving, and additions were added. "Thank you, Lord! It's in the making!"
And they never came back!! Gave it to some other guy. I think he politicked for it a lot or something! Some things just aren't fair!
What if you and I were Matthew 10:1-16? For twelve centuries, give or take a day or two, we have been God's chosen people -- "teacher's pet!" We have received the word of God, observed it, recorded it, kept it, interpreted it, and suffered because of it. Now all of a sudden we are no longer seen as God's only special people -- teacher's pet with all its merited and favored status. They want to let other folks in who haven't paid the price we have paid! And they have the same rights and privileges!?
These are people who look funny, dress funny, eat funny, and smell bad. They are different from us! They know nothing about our sanitary rules, our liturgical procedures, our sacrificial system, our Law! They don't know an introit from a benediction, and now we have got to let those people in? Is that fair? And if we let them in, where is it going to stop? If we open the door to them, one day we will have to let in those who wave their hands in worship, practice faith healing, and some may even believe in women preachers! Now I ask you, "Is that fair?"
The disgruntled laborers do have a point, do they not? For twelve long, hot, tiring hours they have labored in the vineyard and they received the same amount as those who have only worked one single hour. Not only that! Not only have they done twelve times as much work, they were paid last! They had to stand and watch the people who only worked an hour receive equal pay and get it before they do! Is that fair?
They have a point. I believe they were treated unfairly, don't you? But the real question is, by whom were they treated unfairly? The owner? No! He honored his word. He kept his contract. He gave everyone exactly what he said he would. No one was cheated. If anything, he would have to be considered generous. Then who treated them unfairly?
Would you entertain this thought? They treated themselves unfairly. The disgruntled laborers were unfair to themselves. Are we not sometimes guilty of the same thing when we engage in silly comparisons?
Is it not true that there always will be people who have more than we have, and there always will be people who have less than we have? Is it not also true that when I compare myself to people who have less than I have, I come away with the feeling of smugness and false superiority? Is it not also true that when I compare myself to people who have more than I have, I come away with the feeling of jealousy and envy?
Who said that my experience has to become the standard by which others are compared? If I compare myself to you, am I not at least in some way robbing you, or seeking to rob you, of your own uniqueness in God's sight and refusing to let you be the person God has created you to be? Are we not unfair to ourselves when we compare ourselves to others? Are we not unfair to ourselves and unfair to others when we fail to celebrate the goodness of God in their lives? When God has blessed them, are we not unfair to them when we fail to affirm and celebrate that?
We still have trouble with grace, especially when it is extended to others. It is all right when the care package is delivered to my front door, but what happens when the care package is delivered to my neighbor's front door? Are we sometimes envious when God is generous to others? Are we not refusing to let God be God?
I hated Ed Wheeler. Ed Wheeler was a member of Dr. Lunceford's philosophy class at Samford University when I was a struggling student. Every day in class Ed would fall fast asleep. Out like a light! Slept the entire hour every single day -- made straight A's! He is a professor somewhere now. I worked myself to the bone in that class and just barely got by. How easy it would be to be envious of Ed Wheeler. How easy it would be to be envious when someone else becomes teachers' pet, sits third chair, plays third base, marries our girl friend, or receives the church we thought we had to have. Unfair?
Jennifer Jones won an Academy Award for the title role in the movie The Song of Bernadette. Bernadette has received a vision of the Immaculate Conception and has become quite a celebrity. An older nun is consumed by envy toward young Bernadette. In vaguely subdued anger the nun prays to God, "Why her? No one has prayed harder, worked longer, suffered greater than I. Why her and not me?"
Later in the film Bernadette collapses while scrubbing the floor. After his examination, the doctor talks to the older nun. "Has she never complained?" "No, she just quietly does her work." The doctor continued, "That's amazing. The affliction she has, she has had a very long time. The pain is unbearable." Later the older nun prays to her Lord, "God, forgive me. Thank you for the opportunity of serving the one you have chosen."
Why can't we cease to engage in silly comparisons and rejoice that we are chosen at all? Why can't we affirm the goodness of God toward someone else and rejoice in the goodness of God in our own lives? What difference does it make if we are paid for one hour of work, or twelve hours of work; whether we are first or last? Why can't we just rejoice in God's goodness that we, too, are included as workers in His vineyard?
Why can't we quit engaging in silly comparisons and rejoice in the goodness that God extends to others and try to extend some of that goodness ourselves?Dennis Houk became my best friend. I lost Janice, but I found Sharlon; and she has been the best thing that ever happened to me. And as bad as I hate to admit it, David Dykes did a wonderful job at First Baptist Church, Gardendale! Much better than I ever could have done. Then I was fortunate enough in God's grace to be called to Chattanooga First Baptist Church. So I have received more than my just desserts.
I have not received justice. I have received mercy. I have not received a just judgment; I have received grace. Thank God.
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