Does Compassion Trump Fairness?

“That’s not fair.”

These words came out of my mouth so many times as a child. I was an early adopter of the pursuit of justice. Even at seven, I was defending children on the playground regarding racial inequality. Sure, my defense was weak and included name calling, but in my mind, it aligned with my life-long pursuit of making things right and fair.

As a teenager, hearing the words of evangelist, Billy Graham in a Houston stadium drew me to Jesus. Graham was talking about moral absolutes, and how in Jesus, things would be made right. I could be reconciled and made right with God. I had a gaping hole in my soul that cried out for justice, and at last the answer came. The Bible contained true guidance. However, justice can only be accomplished by Jesus’ work on the cross that reconciled me with God. During this period the Lord generously provided a continuous chain of women who discipled me. I look back now in awe of God’s consistent compassion.

Based on all the compassion God has provided for me, I am required to respond to a watching world around me with a similar kindness and generosity in my daily life. Jesus demonstrates compassion for all. He brought the kingdom of Heaven to earth. During Jesus’ ministry, he often pointed to examples of the kingdom of heaven breaking out in the regular every day.

In Matthew 20:1-16 Jesus tells his followers the story or parable of a compassionate employer. Have you heard this story before?  It is often known as the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Most readers focus on the workers and wage inequality. This vineyard owner hires various workers at staggered times throughout the day, so some work much more than others. However, at the end of the day they are all paid the same.

Dr. Kenneth E. Bailey explains that, the true emphasis in this story is a demonstration of an employer’s compassion and concern. Is it fair to be paid for a full day’s work with a full day’s wage? Yes. Could it also be a demonstration of compassion when the owner of the vineyard decides to treat each worker with respect by paying all them, even those who didn’t work all day, the same amount of money? This parable showcases an owner who demonstrates compassion for the unemployed by going back the marketplace five different times and offers work to those who need it. He gives each worker dignity by employing all of them. (Bailey p. 357)

Jesus teaches that compassion trumps any notion of fairness I might have. Is it fair for a sinner like me to be saved by grace? Is it fair that I still fail and sin and do things that displease God, and yet I am secure in my salvation? Not because of my efforts, but because of Jesus’ atonement for my sins, once and for all.

This Lent, I must seek opportunities to focus on compassion, and not my endless pursuit for fairness. What vineyards has God entrusted to me? The vineyards of family, writing, and women’s ministry. Who will I partner with in those vineyards? How will I serve others in those vineyards? What will those vineyards produce?

This week’s soul tending challenge is to practice compassion when it’s not my first inclination. How about you? How will you steward the vineyard God entrusted to you? How will you demonstrate compassion? Sometimes the person we most need to treat with compassion, can even be ourselves.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels by Kenneth Bailey

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