Justice & Privilege

Message:  In Matthew 20 we see a few stories that speak to our understanding of social justice and even the area of privilege. Only in this case, there is no race attached to it because the assumption is that everyone in the stories were part of the Jewish nation. In the first story a land owner hired some men to work in his field for an agreed upon price. As the day progressed he hired additional workers for the same amount all the way up to the final hour of the day. He had his servants pay the men the same amount beginning with the workers who were there the shortest amount. The original workers were enraged to see that those who worked an hour received the same pay as they did when they had worked in the hot sun for a full day. The land owner told them he did them no injustice because after all, he had paid them what they agreed upon and he challenged them by asking if they were jealous of his generosity. This is a tough pill to swallow and it challenges me in my attitude at work. Notice he didn’t try to justify the reason for it. The story doesn’t tell us the financial status of any of the workers, or even try to tell us what special conditions they might be facing. It straight up told us that it was nobody’s business to make comparisons. Each worker was paid according to what was agreed upon and it didn’t matter how much more the owner was willing or able to pay. As much as this story ruffles my feathers, I actually raised my kids this way. If I saw something at the store for one child I bought it and gave it to them. I didn’t go looking for something for the others to make it even, but I didn’t favor one child over the others consistently either. We get in trouble when we start looking at the lives of others and making comparisons. God owes us nothing and everything we receive is a gift. He didn’t come to make everything fair, but we will all be accountable in the end for what we did with what we were given. We will have less then many and we will have more than many. What we do with it is what matters and our hearts toward being on the lower or the higher end of things matters too. In some cases it may not even be financial.  

In the second story we see the mother of the sons of Zebedee approach Jesus to try to get them an elevated status in his kingdom. She must have had some high class status and was expecting that her status would work as a privilege and an advantage to her sons. She had no idea what she was asking. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom does not function the way the world functions. Position and status is not given by class, by special favors or by privilege. It can’t be obtained by someone else’s reputation. Jesus said that not only were those positions not given by he himself, but those who hold those positions of honor will be honored because of their great suffering and their character through that suffering. Because they blindly and arrogantly expected to be handed the privilege without merit, Jesus promised that they would surely endure the suffering involved with what they were asking, even though they would not be guaranteed the honor of those prominent positions. Sometimes we get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others, that we arrogantly believe we deserve things when we have no idea the cost that is required for the blessing or the position we want. Often times the fact that we believe we deserve it exposes the arrogance in us and proves that we don’t have the character for it. I remember hearing a country song with the lyrics “ I want a love like Johnny & June.” (referring, of course to the relationship between Johnny Cash & June Carter). I remember thinking, what an idiot! Do they have any idea how much pain and suffering they went through to have a relationship like that? I see this often when people want relationships to be satisfying and fulfilling, but they aren’t willing to work and fight for the marriage they are in. Their priority is their happiness, and they want it to come easy. But what comes easy does not carry the place in our hearts of something we have fought long and hard for. Today, I challenge every thought that elevates my status without counting the cost of what it takes to obtain it. Whether this is a relationship goal or a work goal, what we desire has a price and we have to be willing to pay the price for the quality that we want. It may be handed to us in this world, but in God’s kingdom we are expected to give our absolute best and trust God to put us where we belong.

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