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Better than a fair go

Imagine you are a day labourer in this parable. You are struggling financially. You do not have a steady job. You might have a family to support. It is important to get work because this pays for the basic necessities in your life like your food and rent. You probably do not have a plot so you can grow your own food.
You are early and go to the marketplace to get work for the day. The owner of the vineyard is offering a denarius, let us say $200 to work in his vineyard. You feel lucky because you have work and it will mean that you will be able to go home to your family tonight and you can support them.

You work all day. It is hot and you are very diligent. You hope to get hired another time. More workers arrive about 9 AM, at noon, at 3 PM and then at 5 PM. 6 PM comes and you are finished for the day. You are tired and sweaty and you look forward getting home with the money. You line up with the other workers. Then you hear that the people who worked for one hour got paid $200. Vow. $200 an hour. I might get $2000. I could get my sick child medicine and maybe we could store some food for a rainy day. And then it is your turn to be paid. And you only get $200. It hardly seems fair. I worked for 12 hours and I get $200. He or she worked for an hour and they get $200. Of course, I grumble.
I say: ’These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ And the landowner takes no notice of me.
He says: ‘‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’


I was really happy at the beginning of the day to get the work. And now I feel angry, disappointed, let down and treated unfairly.
And now imagine you are one of the labourers that had to wait till 5 PM to be hired. There may have been a good reason why no one hired you. You might have come late because you had to look after a sick child or a spouse. You might not be as capable as some of the other workers. You might have a disability. And you might have missed out on work for several days. Your family is really struggling. Getting hired even for an hour might just be enough for some basic food. And what a surprise. You get paid $200. Finally, your worries are over for today. I probably have a mixture of feelings - surprise, relief, gratitude for this unexpected good fortune.
It’s all too easy for us to dismiss the labourers who complain as ungrateful or selfish or, to borrow a biblical phrase, hard of heart. They operate on the basis of fairness, which

means people get what they deserve and worked for. Unions worked hard to get a fair pay for fair day’s work.
We’ve been taught from an early age that fairness matters. Watch a bunch of children play and it won’t be long before you hear someone say, “That’s not fair!” Most parents make sure that they treat their children equally because they do not want one child to feel less loved.


I was at dinner with single’s group last night and we wanted to make sure that everyone got their fair share of the Thai banquet. When we were under the impression that there was only one dish with prawns, we were careful to only take one prawn.
As adults we want our society to be fair. Most of us have probably worked for someone who has taking liberties such as long lunches or a slack attitude to their work. They still get paid the same and sometimes that feels unfair, because I may have to pick up extra tasks to get the job done well.


Too often, however, fairness rather than love, acceptance, mercy, forgiveness, or generosity is the measure by which we act and judge another person or life circumstances.
We like fairness, I think, because it gives us some assurance of order, predictability, control, and hierarchy; even if it is a false assurance. Fairness is based on what you deserve, how hard you work, what you achieve, the way in which you behave. Sometimes it is fair to give a reward other times a punishment. We live in and promote a wage based society in which you earn what you get. You deserve the consequences, good or bad, of your actions.
It is also an economy that is based on supply and demand. In this story, there were clearly more workers than jobs. In this ‘economy of fairness’ the daily wage or minimum wage is generally set low because there is an oversupply of workers. It is not based on what people need to live on, but mostly on the minimum companies need to pay to hire workers so they can achieve the best profit margin.


The owner of the vineyard did not base his actions on fairness. He went to the marketplace many times and hired all the available workers. He made sure no one missed out. And he paid them all the same wage regardless of how many hours they worked. He probably knew that they all needed the money to support themselves and their families. So, he paid them based on their need and not based on the hours they worked.
The owner, who stands for God in this parable, acts not with fairness in mind but from love expressed in generosity. No one received less than they deserve, but the least deserving were given more than they had earned. It is a strange economy: one very difficult for hard working, good living people to appreciate. Giving a fair go to a battler is something we can appreciate, but God gives better than a fair go, and he is not concerned with fairness.
A problem arises when fairness and love clash. Because where fairness counts, love loses track. Where fairness calculates, love lets go. Where fairness holds all things in the balance, love and generosity give everything away, upsetting the balances we have so carefully arranged.


They do not have to be in opposition. Just imagine applying complete fairness to everything in your relationship. You always had to make sure that you got exactly same thing. You might count every slight or injury done to you by your partner/family member/friend so that you can do the same to him/her? Logging every hurt you experience at the hands of those around you so that you can remember, keeping a record of your grievances and waiting for reparations?
Can you imagine living your life this way? I think it would be hell on earth. It is love, generosity, and forgiveness that enable relationships to flourish.
God, who is that over generous owner of the vineyard (God’s kingdom) deals generously with all people. Any who come wanting a place to serve in his kingdom will be accepted and blessed. They will receive something far better than fairness or justice. They will receive love. That overgenerous, overflowing, unearnable mercy of God.


Jesus delights in, and reveals, that One God who will always have mercy and abundantly pardon. The God who fills your cup to over flowing. The God who decrees that the first shall be as the last and the last shall be as the first. The God who like a patiently watching father, sees us while a long way off, sprints to greet the prodigal son or daughter, and welcomes them home with extraordinary hospitality. The God of abundant love who is reflected in Christ who, when at a wedding feast, turned water into wine; wine of top quality and far more of it than the guests could ever drink.


If you think you deserve special treatment from God, because of your loyalty through the years, your hard work in the church, or your service to the community, then think again. You are in the wrong vineyard. Not one of us deserves the degree of love, the “wage,” that God offers us. The extraordinary overabundance is the same for all.


God’s generosity to his people is also shown in the old Testament reading. He has freed the people of Israel, they are no longer slaves, and they have left Egypt and Moses has led them into the wilderness.
The troubles of the children of Israel were not over when they reached the other side of the Red Sea and saw their pursuing Egyptian enemies engulfed by the returning tide. They had been slaves but now they were liberated. Yet their freedom brought them new challenges, new lessons to be learned in the school of hard reality. Here they meet new challenges - lack of food and water in an inhospitable environment. They start to grumble.


2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
They had already forgotten how difficult their life had been in Egypt. They were afraid of starving to death.
God provided them with quails and manna. Each year migrating birds moved in large numbers from the African continent to the southern European and the Asian land mass. Each evening hundreds of exhausted quail would flutter in for a landing on the Sinai Peninsula. They were easy prey for the Israelites.


It was the same with the manna. There are still parts of that wilderness where there grows a type of Acacia that which exudes a sugary sap. Which when it falls at night on the ground wet with dew, it forms crisp little flakes. The wandering herdsmen of the Middle East, whom we now call the Bedouin, still collect this delectable substance for food. This is the manna.


And God provided them with a very qualified leader. Moses grew up in the Egyptian court where he was educated in geography and astronomy, in the arts of leadership and government, in public and personal hygiene and health, in the training of soldiers and the strategies of war. Then Moses fled to the wilderness and lived there for 40 years as a shepherd. He knew from experience how to survive in this environment.
God does not do anything by half measures. There is a “full on” generosity in all things.


This is absolutely so even in those times when we might imagine God has forgotten us. It is so on those occasions when, like the Israelites, we start complaining and whingeing. God works on a large scale, over a vast tapestry of time, and creates purpose and pattern where we may imagine none exists. What God is doing for us is done with abundance; an abundance which we often do not notice until we look back years later.
We all have had our experiences of wilderness, when we may feel lost and not feel close to God. We probably all have had times when we grumbled and felt that life treated us unfairly.
And it is in those times that we need to remember the extravagant generosity of God. And we need to remember that we are saved by grace: that is by being given better than a fair go.

You might meditate on God’s generosity during the week and see how this may impact on you. I will leave you with the following reminder:
Freely you have received. Freely give. And then you will not only experience the happiness of the angels in heaven, but also enter into the very joy of God.

Dorothea Wojnar

Dorothea Wojnar is an elder and worship leader and preacher at TUC. Dorothea regularly leads the meditation service every Monday. Dorothea has a deep interest in contemplative worship. In addition to her roles at TUC, Dorothea is a member of presbytery and a member of its Pastoral Relations Committee.

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About Our Church

Our faith community began in 1975 as a small ecumenical gathering of people who settled in the new Canberra township of Tuggeranong. We have grown with the Tuggeranong Community, and our parish centre is the hub for our work, as a place of worship, of gathering and ministry.

We aim to help people have life to the full. We welcome people into a our Christian community where they can connect with God, with one another and with opportunities to make a difference in our changing world.

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