Back some time ago when I was running our family’s construction company, “Forney Development Co.,” we had three projects in various stages of refurbishment in Lake Arrowhead.
I would often be up there to monitor progress. One day I got up there, obviously none of the crew was expecting me as they were all standing around. When I asked as to why I heard no hammers pounding or saws cutting I was told that they were waiting a delivery of lumber.
I looked about the job site which was a mess. It hadn’t been cleaned up in some while. I told the crew that there’s not a single job site around that doesn’t need picked up and swept up. AND, I didn’t have any pay category for just standing around.
They got the message. And the lumber delivery arrived shortly after we had the place tidied up.
Employees are often a trying and tricky proposition. To get the right person in the right job is a knack developed over time. And sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Alfredo always wanted a raise but his foreman would tell him that if he couldn’t add two fractions together, he wouldn’t be able to figure the layout for roof trusses and rafters. “If you can’t do this basic math, how can I recommend to John that he give you a raise?” Alfredo never seemed interested in learning the math but also felt that Manny was unfair in not recommending him for a raise.
I now have one fellow that can be off chasing rabbits in a flash. I’ve learned that I cannot give him more than one task at a time. Otherwise, the most important task never gets accomplished.
Instead of getting a unit ready for a new tenant, this fellow’s under the box truck fiddling with the shocks and the liftgate. We don’t need the truck now. Meanwhile our tenant has paid his deposit and is ready to move in. We have tile to set, new carpet to lay, plumbing to repair, mold to eliminate and a new window to be installed. Just for starters.
I can only imagine the distressing plight of the harried landowner in Matthew’s story of harvest time at his vineyard. Everyone grousing about who got paid what! And a labor shortage to boot!
What is fair?
Matthew’s little vignette got at this issue for the legalists in his congregation. And of course, any business owner is going to bridle at the proposition that those showing up at the job site at the last hour would be paid the same as those showing up at 6:00 o’clock that morning. Owners would shout to the rooftops, “Unfair.” We can’t run any business that way. We’d be out of business!
Well, this parable is not about fair wages. It’s about God’s generous heart.
An early controversy in the growing church was whether and how the gentiles should be welcomed. Why should these new converts be exempt from the difficulty of laboring under the demands of the Law when the children of Israel have been under that burden for generations. It’s not fair!
They waltz right in at the last hour and are yet receiving the same benefits of God’s love as the ones who have had to prove themselves under the Law for generations. Not fair!
We face the same issue here in America. Our borders are besieged with immigrants seeking shelter, seeking refuge from oppressive governments, from murderous gangs, from the effects of climate change, from lack of economic opportunity. Residents in cities besieged by this influx cry, “It’s not fair. This is not sustainable.”
In New York, Mayor Adams lamented that this issue “will destroy this city.”
As the price of everything continues to climb, wage earners and their families are squeezed. Since the Age of Reagan, income disparity between the bottom eighty percent and the very top has skyrocketed.
We now have less social mobility than we had in the Gilded Age of the late 1890s through the end of that century. Labor actions and strikes are now at an all-time high as workers struggle for a fair wage, a living wage. And artificial intelligence threatens to eliminate many of the now existing jobs.
We all are hearing a collective, “It’s not fair” resonating throughout the land. A general disgruntlement.
Statistics say the economy is doing just fine. But people are not feeling it in their pocketbooks.
It’s time to take a new look at the covenant that binds us together as a people. We need to look at the economic arrangement that binds our various nations together in a common economic rule of law.
The job category of just standing around and doing nothing won’t cut it anymore.
What is fair?
Last evening on PBS “News Hour” was a segment on the obstacles to people released from incarceration who are prevented from obtaining occupational licenses for many vocations – teacher, public safety officer, electrician, cosmetologist, elder care, real estate agent, nurse, doctor or attorney.
Even though they might now have acquired the education and have demonstrated the aptitude, they are denied access to appropriate employment, in many cases due to a bad decision as a teenager. Now, THAT’S not fair!
What is fair? This for starters:
These people have done their time, paid their debt. It is high time to welcome them back into civil society with all the benefits and privileges. That’s a mirror in a small way of God’s magnanimous embrace of all. It’s the reality of the Parable of the Prodigal Son come to life.
Many of these folks will be among our clients at House of Hope. A part of our two-year program will be to provide the education and employment readiness skills for such new beginnings.
Let’s not forget, many will relapse once or twice before attaining long-term sobriety. We believe in second and third…and more chances.
Yeah, you’ve still got to do some basic math to get by in life. You need to pay your bills. You need to be able to fill out a job application. Maybe, write a cogent sentence. You’ve got to be able to get your life organized.
But I’m especially most grateful for an eternal welcome for the disorganized, the ADD folks. As is our welcome at the Lord’s Table: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you’re invited to this Table to receive the Bread and Wine made holy.” For you, my friend, even at the eleventh hour, are holy and precious in the sight of God. Amen.
September 24, 2023
17 Pentecost, Proper 20
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
Jonah 3:10-4:11; Psalm 145:1-8;
Philippians 1:21-39; Matthew 20:1-16 “It’s Not Fair”