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The unfair, reckless love of God

 If it came down to it, would you choose love or fairness?

From early on, we understand the concept of “fair.” Or, rather, we understand when things are unfair.

We cry out, that’s not fair when someone gets a bigger piece of dessert or when we’re forced to share a toy that we don’t think needs to be shared. We say it’s not fair when someone gets to do something we want to do, first. We have a keen sense of what is and is not fair.

I always assumed that as children begin to get older, we let go — for the most part — of our sense of fairness and unfairness. Because it seems like such a childish thing to complain about: “that’s so not fair!”

But the sense of what is and is not fair actually stays with us. And sometimes the sense of things being unfair is greater and larger than when we were kids because the stakes are greater and larger.

It’s no longer that someone got the bigger piece of a physical and literal pie but that someone got a bigger piece of the financial pie at your company when you’ve put in more work than they did and their bigger slice of “pie” affects your livelihood. (I want pie now. Pecan, while we’re dreaming).

There’s this story that Jesus tells in Matthew’s Gospel”

 

A landowner goes out early in the morning to hire day laborers for his vineyard. They agree on the payment and he sends them to the vineyard.  Then, around midmorning, he sees a group of day laborers standing around and he hires them to work on his vineyard explaining, “I’ll pay you whatever is right.” Then he hires more workers at noon and then even more workers at 3pm. At 5pm, he found more workers just hanging around and they explain that they’re here because no one had hire them for the day. So the landowner hires them to go work in his vineyard.

 

Then it was time for everyone to get paid. The landowner started with the people that were hired last and gave them their payment — which was the same amount the first day laborers were hired for. So that early morning crew were getting excited because if the last group hired received such an amount, how much more would they receive for a longer day’s work?

Well. When it came to their payment, they received the same amount as those who were hired at 5pm.

Of course they let their displeasure be known. “We worked the entire day in the hot sun and yet we received the same pay as those who only worked an hour?”

Say it with me, now: that’s not fair.

The landowner explains that he has done nothing wrong. He paid them what they agreed to work for. And then he asks them, “Are you resentful because I’m generous?” (Matthew 20:15b)

That’s still not fair

There’s another story where Jesus is hanging on the cross between two convicted criminals. One of the criminals pleaded with Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus responded, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Wait, what? He lived his whole life how he wanted to and at the last minute, with his last breath — he’ll be in paradise with Jesus?

Say it with me, now: that’s not fair.

There’s yet another story.

This time about two sons and their father. The youngest one demands his share of the inheritance and when the father inexplicably agrees, the son goes off to distant lands and squanders it.

Hitting rock bottom, he decides that it would be better living as a hired hand at his father’s house than being houseless in a foreign land. But when he returns, his father (inexplicably) is so overwhelmed with joy that his son returned that he throws a massive party to celebrate.

The older son learns that this party is for his brother’s return and is furious. “Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction,”
 he rants. “Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.” (Luke 15:29-30)

Say it with me, now: that’s not fair.

There are even more stories throughout scripture that’ll illicit this sense of “wait, that’s not fair.”

Here’s the truth: God’s not fair.

The deeper truth is that when we talk about “fairness” we want it to be in our favor. We want God to be fair, in my favor. We want the world to be fair in way that favors me and mine.

So yea, God’s not fair, especially in the way we want God to be fair. Instead, God is generous.

And thanks be to God that God is generous and not fair. For who would have a leg to stand on in the presence of God if God was fair?

Through God’s generosity, God extends mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love to us. And God is recklessly generous.

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Reckless generosity

God not only extends generosity to us and the people we think are deserving, God is generous towards everyone, even those — especially those— who we feel are underserving of such generosity. And it makes us uncomfortable. It may make us angry. It may fill us with a sense of unfairness.

We’re then confronted with the same question the landowner asked the early morning crew: Are you resentful because I’m generous?

God seemingly always chooses love over “fairness.”

The landowner doesn’t act based on what’s fair or just — but with love. Jesus at the cross doesn’t respond based on what’s fair, “right,” or just, but with love. The father responds to both of his sons with what’s not “fair” but with love.
In every possible turn, God chooses to be generous in love. So perhaps, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should start framing our world, our views, and our decisions — not based on what’s fair— but through love. Instead of being resentful at God’s generosity, may we seek to emulate it. 


Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.