Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Fair Deal - Ordinary Time - September 21

Jonah 3:10 – 4:11
Psalm 145
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

         “That’s not fair!” The complaint plagues parents, educators, referees – anyone who makes decisions. Sometimes it comes from a perceived difference in treatment. Sometimes it comes from the perception of equal treatment. Everyone defines fair to their benefit; the decision-makers cannot win. Imagine God’s decision making process: “Jonah or Nineveh? Us or them? First century Christians or twenty-first century Christians? Who’s going to have a bad day?”

         As far as Jonah is concerned, I wonder if God could have given him a good day. Upon being released from the great fish, he probably pined for the coziness of the close quarters inside. God gave him a mission, but because of his view of himself and his view of the recipients of that mission, he acted contrary to his charge. Unlike the spies who hear the “should you choose to accept this assignment” qualification to their direction, prophets only hear, “your assignment….” Jonah still hoped God would have a change of mind. God did. God pardoned Nineveh – which Jonah knew would happen. He returned to pouting and hoped God would decide to smite them anyway.

         A first reading of the Gospel lets one ask, “what does God owe me?” The answer is pretty good: I get the same thing every Christian gets! A deeper reading though flips the question, “what do I owe God?” The answer is pretty rough: I owe God the same thing every Christian does. Suddenly, I do not see Jonah as the whiner; he has some good points. “They” are wicked: “I” am holy. “They” did not keep your commandments: “I” live according to your will…except for that one thing…and yes, that other….

         I am them. They are me.

         Since Easter Sunday I have been on a self-imposed hiatus. Honestly, it has been a self-imposed avoidance of anything religious. Through Lent and Holy Week I found myself responding to the texts with degrees of physical anger. How could the “Church” keep getting it so wrong? The Gospel I read left no doubt about Jesus’s message of inclusion yet dictate after dictate issued by various denominations established conditions of exclusion. I found myself fantasizing Nineveh2 consequences on them.

         I was Jonah.

         Instead of reflecting on Scripture and other writings, I took up the gavel and pronounced judgment.

         Exactly the thing that in others led to such physical distress in me.

         I was them and it was killing me.

         It’s not fair! I had to embrace those who make me uncomfortable and “they” do not. Like Jonah, I fled.

         Last week, I heard the sermon one of my Tweeps (people I follow on Twitter) delivered. The message was simple but powerful: Don’t Judge. Exchanging the gavel for my collection of colored pens I use to notate the Scriptures I am studying removed the stress and anger that plagued me in the weeks leading up to Easter.

         What do I owe God? To do his will for me and not do his job (judge).

         What does God owe me? Only that which has been promised – the strength to do his will.

         That’s fair – whether I like it or not.