Calculating Fairness in the Divine Economy
In the beloved TV special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), Charlie’s little sister, Sally, writes to Santa, requesting a bounty of presents. If assembling gifts is too much effort, “10s and 20s will do.” When Charlie can’t conceal his dismay, Sally replies matter-of-factly. “All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share.”
Fairness is in the eye of the beholder. We assume it means equitable portions of whatever we’re measuring (whether Christmas gifts or social advantage). But who gets to do the math? For example, public education in America is meant to give everyone a “fair start.” Except there’s that pesky business of budgets and districts in which children of privileged classes and groups somehow get first-rate public education while those who would benefit most from having more get less. Is that fair? Ask a parent in an underfunded school district and he’ll say, “No!” Ask a parent from a neighborhood with “good schools” and she’ll tell you, “Of course. We pay more taxes, why shouldn’t our children benefit!”
Fairness is where justice gets real because it reduces high-flown principles into currency. Sometimes it’s hard cash. More often, it’s what we call “social capital”—prescribed values and assumptions that lend meaning to material possessions, making some more desirable and valuable than others. In these terms, the currency of a first-rate public education isn’t merely based on objective criteria like expenses and outcomes. It’s also measured by what superior free education implies about the worth of those who receive it. (And, as a corollary, what a substandard education says about those who are subjected to that.)
The assumption behind Sally’s letter to Santa is clear. She sees other children asking for lots of gifts and knows they’re no better than she. She rightfully expects to receive just as much as her peers. “All I want is my fair share,” she says. And why not?
By now, I hope all of the above is making us squirm because this “fair share” logic directly contradicts the kingdom theology Jesus taught. The way he tells it, fairness is the result of preferring those who have the least. Those who’ve been systematically shut out and socially left behind are the entitled to more than those who are insiders. In the great parable of the workers (Matt. 20:1-16), it’s radical enough that everyone gets paid the same wages despite how long they worked. But Jesus goes one better and says the last hired get paid first so those who started at dawn can see what’s up.
“I’ll pay you whatever is right,” the landowner says and by the end of the story it’s very clear his idea of what’s fair is most unusual because it’s just. Why? We’ll wrestle with that question in this week’s “Just Living” conversation. Meet at 7:30pm CDT on Thursdays as we look at the principles behind justice in this exciting series!
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.