Foolish Love is Unfair
(Week 3)

Scripture: Matthew 20:1-16, 18:12-13
    “That’s not fair!”

    I cannot remotely guess how many times I said that to my parents. I can tell you when I did say it, I was most likely objecting to the way they were treating my brother in comparison to the way they treated me. Even as I sit here unable to count the times I said that to them, I can tell you what their response always was to me.

    “We aren’t trying to be fair. We will never treat you fairly because you are different people. You don’t want us to treat you fairly. You want us to treat you like you.”
    I didn’t understand that reasoning at the time, but now I am so grateful that is how they approached parenting. And I am definitely thankful that is how they loved us both.  
    I am also grateful they taught us that lesson in the boundaries of a loving home, because it prepared me for life in a world that isn’t fair. We are not islands unto ourselves. We are part of society, and we are created to love and be in relationship with others. This means that we also have to contend with the choices that others make, and sometimes that means the repercussions of their decisions also impact us.

    In this week’s video, Kristin Wells shares how she and her husband Wesley were impacted by the decision of a man they hit with their car when he stepped in front of their car as they were traveling on an interstate. They experienced profound worry for the man, losing sleep as they wondered if he lived. They rejoiced to learn that he did. They also, however, faced their own struggles due to that man’s choice. They had to rearrange schedules while they were limited to one car, make claims on insurance, and navigate the panic that Wesley experienced for some time when he thought about having to drive again. These were struggles they willingly undertook, always keeping the man’s health and welfare at the heart of their concerns. But was it fair that they had to go through all of that? No it was not.
    There is a difference between unfair and unjust. Unfairness is a result of recognizing the value of difference in people, and then making space for each individual and each situation. Unjust is capitalizing on difference in order to privilege some over others for somewhat arbitrary reasons. God will always treat us unfairly, just as my parents did my brother and me. At the same time, God will always seek justice and expect us to work diligently to counter injustice in our world.
     The trick is, sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between what is unjust and what is unfair. So let’s look at the passages for this week to see if we can get some guidance on the difference.  
    Both of these passages tend to upset longtime church people. Why? Because they both imply that someone can confess a belief in God on their deathbed and still get into heaven.  But come on, folks! Let’s take a step back for just a minute and get some perspective. Because these passages can be way more offensive than that!

     Why do I say that? Well, to answer that, first let’s look at why Jesus teaches in parables. The answers are found in Matthew 13. In Matthew 13:13, Jesus tells the disciples he teaches in parables so the people will not understand what is being said. Then, in Matthew 13:35, we are told Jesus speaks in parables in order to reveal what has been hidden since the beginning of the world. In other words, he uses parables so people will finally understand!
     Wait, what?

     Parables both reveal and hide the meaning Jesus is sharing with others. Maybe that is because some people will always understand the symbolic nature of parables, while for others the clarity will come in taking the parables literally. It is likely that Jesus means for both realities to have meaning. So, parables certainly are revealing something of the reign of God to come, AND they are likely showing us how to reorder our concrete reality here to better resemble that reign.
    Both of these parables call for caring for the most vulnerable among us. But they are also calling us to share in the most unselfish ways. As hard as it may be for us to share heaven with latecomers, we struggle even more with sharing in the here and now.
    A couple of current realities give some space to reflect on this challenge: tipping and the housing market.

    Recently I watched a couple of news stories on tipping culture in the US (one from the Wall Street Journal and one from CNBC). They were responding to some studies that revealed the growing number of people who are irritated by screens that include pre-figured tips. These studies say that as high as two-thirds of Americans are frustrated by tipping. I will admit, when I face a tip request when I am picking up a to-go order, I have a moment where I stop and wonder what I am supposed to do.    
    Most people know that tipped workers have a different minimum wage than other workers. You may not know, however, how low it is. In 1991, the federal minimum wage for tipped workers was set at $2.13, and it remains there to this day, almost 35 years later. Some states have a higher tipped minimum wage, and by law if tips do not equal the federal standard minimum wage of $7.25 an employer is supposed to make up the difference. But just take a moment there and think about what it is like to get a check that reflects $2.13 an hour. My guess is that at times that won’t even cover taxes on earnings.

    Now let’s turn to the housing market. Owning property has become a battleground among generations, with Millennials (those born roughly between 1980 and 1997) arguing that Baby Boomers (those born from 1945-64) had unfair advantages such as a booming economy, relatively small competition for resources from older generations, and favorable interest rates that have made home ownership (even multiple home ownership) much more accessible for them than Millennials. Another video by TikTok creator Freddie Smith pointed out that even within generations there are some marked advantages, based on what year you entered the economic playing field. It breaks the middle class down into five groups:

  • Bought a home before 2020 with an interest rate under 4% with no kids: monthly outlay (for housing and daycare) = $1500
  • Bought a home before 2020 with an interest rate under 4% but has kids in daycare: monthly outlay = $4000
  • Bought a home in 2020 or later with an interest rate around 7% with no kids: monthly outlay = $4000
  • Renting instead of owning with kids in daycare: $5000
  • Bought a home in 2020 or later with an interest rate around 7% with kids in daycare: monthly outlay = $6500

That last category of people would require a household income of $100k a year just to cover housing and daycare.  Again, some of those statistics are going to vary from state to state, but even when they are lower, it is likely that the state’s wages are also lower and that has the same effect of difficulty in affording housing and daycare.

    If Jesus were telling these parables today, he very likely could use a restaurant server as the lost sheep and a young family for the workers in the vineyard who arrived late. Then being protective of who got into heaven in the end feels far less urgent than who can afford to feed their kids right now.

     These parables made people in the ancient world not only face their spiritual selfishness, but also injustice in the society around them. Jesus not only called them to make God more inclusive, he invited them to think about how they can make social systems that don’t depend on exploitation of some for the benefit of others.

     The truth is we still grumble at having to share what we have. I stand there and question whether I should tip for carryout when the person in front of me still has to take time to wait on me and still may be making less than $3 an hour to do so! Because the question in my head is, “Do they deserve this?” People with a roof over their head and money in the bank still look at young people and say, “If you work hard enough and quit complaining, you will be fine,” without recognizing that the situation they face is not the same one we faced 30 or 50 years ago.
    Life is not always going to be fair. And God will definitely not be fair! Thank God! Because if we all got what we “deserved,” my guess is a lot of us would be hungry and standing. God is not aiming for fair. God is looking at each situation and adjusting accordingly. And the truth is, we want God to treat us like us. And we want God to love like God loves.

     However, we should also remember that God is working for justice and calling us to work for that justice too. Justice does mean giving up something of what we have so that someone else can benefit. When we face the difficulty of that reality, I invite all of us to remember that we serve a God of abundance, not of scarcity. If we trust in God’s provision, there will always be enough. But I am getting ahead of myself – that is the lesson in the week ahead.  

  • Have you ever faced a time in your life when you were given more grace than you “deserved”? What impact did (or would) such a gift have on your life?
  • Which is more challenging, thinking of heaven as open and available to anyone no matter how late they come to faith, or exploring the concrete realities of these parables and seeking to change our systems here and now?
  • If Jesus were preaching these parables today, what are some other situations you think he could use to illustrate unfairness?
  • In the video, Kristin Wells shares the difficult story of when she and her husband struck a man who stepped in front of them on the highway. They were primarily concerned for the man and his safety, but she also honestly reflected on the consequences she and her husband faced because of that man’s decision to step in front of them. Have you ever faced consequences in your life for someone else’s decision? What were the results? Have you ever made a decision yourself that deeply impacted others? What happened to your relationships with one another?


Sunday, March 3
Scripture Reading: Matthew 18:12-13; 20:1-16
    Maybe we see ourselves as placing first in God’s eyes as people who study scripture, worship weekly, and check off the rest of our Christian to-do lists. Even though we know God doesn’t have favorites, maybe deep down we’ve wondered if all our hard work has earned us a special place in God’s heart. But God is so powerful, even though God knows everything about us that does make us special, God does not single us out. And God is so wonderfully complicated that God has the same goal for each of us but gives us each different means to the same end. God seeks to eradicate the categories of “first” and “last”. We live in a society that perpetuates poverty and misfortune and simultaneously elevates those who seem to already have everything. Even Jesus fits into one of these categories. Jesus spent his life living with, neighboring, witnessing, and loving the people who were constantly coming in last. But He made the same sacrifice for each of us. We can’t earn a higher place in God’s eyes. But we can enhance our community, society, and our own lives by giving and loving like Jesus. Maybe instead of striving to earn some sort of first place, we should always work to be the first to act with love. Instead of defying God and seeking to create further division through using labels and rankings like “good” or “bad”, “faithful” or “not”, we should pray and hope and work to be the first to show the light of God, especially to those whom others are attempting to force into last place.
- Lexie Burleson

Monday, March 4
Scripture Reading: Mark 7:24-30
     Reading Mark7:24-30, I was reminded of a Walmart commercial from several years ago. In the commercial, a diverse group of people - men and women, young and old, multiple races, healthy and disabled, gay and straight, from different economic stations and geographic locations – grab a variety of chairs and transport them anyway they can – on bikes, motorcycles, skateboards and wagons – to a huge table, to share a meal and fellowship together.  Playing in the background is the Youngbloods hit from 1969, “Get Together.”  You know the song – “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now.”  Walmart titled the commercial “Many Chairs, One Table.”
    This commercial illustrates beautifully Mark7:24-30. Jesus went into Gentile territory to hide from crowds who follow him everywhere. But there is no hiding.  In a private home, a Gentile mother with a demon possessed child is on a mission to see Jesus.  Already an outsider in multiple ways – not Jewish, a woman and unclean– she will not be denied.  She begs Jesus to drive out the demon and save her daughter.
    Jesus’ reply seems harsh and anything but loving as he says “First, let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “For it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  Not exactly foolish love to call this desperate mother a dog.  But she won’t be discouraged and tells Jesus that even the dogs eat the children’s breadcrumbs that fall from the table.  “Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
    Foolish love is unfair!  Jesus should have saved that miracle for a worthy person – a Jew, a man, anybody but this unworthy woman.  All she wanted was the crumbs from the table; she had enough faith to know that the crumbs from Jesus’ table would be enough.  Thank God that foolish love is not fair!  Just as this child was saved, so are we – the undeserving, the unclean.  And Jesus makes room at his table for this woman and her child, and for us, for everyone.  Just like that commercial, God’s table is big enough! God’s heart is big enough!  All are welcome - serving foolish love to everyone!
- Angie Barrington

Tuesday, March 5
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-12
    Have you ever experienced an Eeyore moment? A moment when it was a struggle to feel blessed? “Don’t blame me if it rains,” “wish I could say yes, but I can’t,” “if it is a good morning, which I doubt,” “thanks but I’d rather stay an Eeyore.” As faithful followers of Jesus, we aren’t guaranteed sunshine in our face, but we are promised God’s grace, and a grace that is there for everyone – even an Eeyore.
    In Matthew 5:1-12 we hear the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes which describe people who have saving faith and will inherit a place in the kingdom of God. Here, Jesus explains that we are blessed no matter what our current reality is because of the sure future we hold by the grace of God.  The Beatitudes reminds us that to be blessed doesn’t just mean “to be happy.”
What is it that the Beatitudes promises? It’s not good fortune or prosperity, or personal achievement – but rather the blessing of the Holy Spirit within that provides us with spiritual well-being as individuals and as a community of faith.
    This passage provides us with a description of the character of God’s kingdom; here we realize that Jesus is not saying only the pure in heart may enter the kingdom of heaven, but God’s love is for everyone! What a blessing indeed!
    As Eeyore once said “a little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” May you shine your light before others so that they will see your good works and want what you have – the grace of God that gives glory to our Father in heaven.
- Pam Rapp

Wednesday, March 6
Scripture Reading: Luke 2:25-35
Longing and Waiting
    As Simeon longed to see the Messiah, I longed for a brother or a sister.
    I am an only child. When I was a kid, visiting my cousins was what I liked best in the whole world. I saw the fun they had together – the laughter, the tomfoolery, the companionship, the adventures. I wanted to be part of a big family like that! But my family was just my mom, my dad, and me.
    I begged my parents. One day I even told them, “I’ve saved some money, and I think I have enough to buy us a baby. Can’t we PLEEEEEASE?”
    Years before, my father had served in World War II in the Philippines. While there, he contracted malaria and was ill for several months. I didn’t know it back then, but because of that disease it was highly unlikely that I would ever have a sibling – regardless of how much money I socked away.
    But life went on.
    I learned to be creative when I had to play by myself. I learned how to be less sensitive when playing with friends. I learned to listen to what others had to say, to their ideas. And I accepted the fact that I was not “the bellybutton of the world.”
    Years passed.
    I grew up. I got married and adopted two children. Then I married Lyle and inherited two more. A little while later, Lyle and I had two kids. We had six kiddos! We were a big family!
    One day it hit me: my children are the brothers and sisters I always wanted. This is the big family I prayed for when I was little. Here now is the laughter, the fun, the companionship – at last. And it is so very wonderful.
    Sometimes God wants us to wait. He puts our prayers on hold – maybe as a reminder that He’s in charge, maybe so we don’t forget that His timing rules.
    Or maybe just to give us extra time to learn what we need to know.
- Marie Clapper

Thursday, March 7                      
Scripture Reading: Luke 4:16-30
Personal Reflection
     Question: In this passage, Jesus lifts up Gentiles as good examples, and that angers the crowd. When have you stood up for someone and faced consequences from people you love and know?
Date: Friday, March 8
Scripture Reading: Luke 14:7-11
     We see this principle exemplified every day where people strive to give the appearance of importance and self-promotion.  We are fixated on ourselves.  Our world encourages and even demands this at times.  We’re told that we need to be aggressive or assertive and “look out for #1.”  Our egos and pride prevent us from forming relationships with others sometimes.  But the Lord shows us that this is not the right way to live.
I love this parable from Jesus about the banquet guests and especially the last verse: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” We should all strive to think of others more than ourselves and to exemplify God’s inclusive love to all.
-Janet Wilson

Saturday, March 9
Scripture Reading: Leviticus 19:18
     Jesus loved louder than the crowd.
     Today, society often goes to extreme efforts to be one voice loud enough to be made out above the noise. Everyone wants to be heard.
      During Jesus’ day, everywhere he went, he was met with dissenting opinions and hatred.  The crowd was loud - people tried to silence him and amplify their own voices. But Jesus . . .  He didn’t give in and add to the noise. He used his voice, remained true to his path of patience, selflessness, and love - more importantly, demonstrating those same characteristics. He responded to the overwhelming volume of hate with quiet and deliberate acts of love.
      Jesus didn’t want us to behave like adults.
     Jesus never intended us to behave like adults. As Christians, we often hear about having a childlike faith.  Jesus’ example of humility and trust taught us something about navigating relationships - always loving and forgiving like a child, loving fully.  He always loved, always forgave, and, like children who have yet to experience disappointments, betrayals, and selfish ambitions, Jesus believed that other people could love one another the same way. After all, He even forgave the people who killed him. Maybe we could learn something from the innocence of children that kind of compassion, love, and forgiveness that many of us have lost sight of.
     Jesus invited everyone.
     Examining Jesus’ life, we notice he spent considerable time around the dinner table, sharing a meal with others, and with a diverse cast of characters – outcasts, self-righteous religious elite, rule-breakers, the unclean, wealthy and corrupt and racially diverse. He invited everyone to the table. What a simple concept, and yet, it would turn the world upside-down the same way Jesus turned his around 2,000 years ago!  Back in Jesus’ time, it would have been inappropriate for a Jewish teacher to teach a female student, engage with chronically ill or disabled, cross ethnic and political barriers.  Yet, Jesus—He didn’t follow any of these rules. In fact, he went out of his way to break them, giving them a place to belong, treating all with value and respect.
   Jesus chose forgiveness – he rose above rage, anger and hate.
     Jesus is a great example of peace and love. Despite facing insurmountable controversy and being the target of unjustified hate, how did he stifle his outrage?  How did he not hold a grudge?  You may recall a group of men spit in Jesus’ face, struck him, and slapped him, and yet, he did not retaliate. Today, it’s hard to fathom how He swallowed his rage, as every day, we’re faced with something new to fight about. Even though our anger is often justified, the animosity has taken a toll on the ability to engage – to really show love to one another. In the face of haters and adversity, Jesus forgave the people who put him on the cross.  In the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere — he points us to forgiving one another. Jesus knew revenge or holding a grudge doesn’t fulfill, holding on to hatred and resentment only breeds the same.  Forgiveness shows love for the one being forgiven and releases resentment for the one doing the forgiving.  The choice to forgive — and it is hard at times — is a choice that stops the cycle of hurt and pain.
     Perhaps, if we emulated a child-like faith, loved a little bit louder, stop excluding and chose to rise above situations and forgive the world might be a little better?
 - Vicki Vasser