Dr. Sangyil Park, Associate Professor of Preaching
Are you a runner? Then, how fast can you run? 9.58 seconds– that is the world record Usain Bolt holds. You may recall how popular the world’s fastest man was during the world championships a few months ago in Korea. People value those athletes who run fast, high, and long. That is where the money is; and that is where many people want to be.
In India there is a different kind of race called “the slow cycling race.” You have to come in last if you want to win the race. If you go as fast as you can, leaving everyone else behind, you will not win.
It’s like what Jesus says: “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” In God’s kingdom, there is a different rule of winning; it is the rule of love and care.
The parable of the laborers in Matthew 20:1-16 challenges our modern understanding of fairness. Everyone knows we are entitled to hourly minimum wage and it is fair for us to be paid based on the hours we work. Yet the farmer pays all the laborers exactly the same amount. Those hired in the early morning complain that this is unfair because they were paid the same amount as the late comers. But for those who only worked one hour or two, it was undeserved grace for them to receive this full wage!
God’s love goes beyond our expectation and understanding of fairness.
It is interesting to see a similar story in Exodus 16:2-15.
When God provides Israelites with manna and quail in the wilderness, He does not allow some fast runners to go ahead of other people, getting more to save up for the future while some slow people lose the opportunity for their daily bread. Everyone deserves and gets their daily meal, not more, not less. Each day, God provides enough for that day. They are not to worry about tomorrow; God wants them to focus on today. All they had to do was trust the Lord. I wonder what the world would look like if today’s economy were just like that.
In our life, we must be smart and fast in order to move ahead of others. We think we can’t afford stay behind. But Jesus always paid attention to those slow walkers. When Bartimaeus, the blind man, shouted, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, wait!” the disciples said to him, “Hey, be quiet, he is busy.” But Jesus did stop. He not only stopped, he paid attention to this poor man. He had compassion on him.
We need to walk slowly in life, to look around and see who is there, to listen and talk with them, and to make some eye contact.
People complain. “The whole congregation complained,” the Exodus text says. And it was the same with the laborers who worked in the vineyard. With life the way it is, we’re always tempted to join those complainers. And complaints always come when we raise the idea of fairness. But God isn’t too interested in fairness. He is more interested in loving and caring for His people, especially those slow walkers. Truth is this: had the people of Israel gotten what they deserved, they would still be in Egypt. Had the vineyard workers gotten what they deserved, some people wouldn’t have enough to live on. God is more interested in generosity than fairness, especially when it comes to the people who are in need. For God, there is real fairness only when there is love and care for undeserving people.
I don’t know about you. I always see myself as a late-comer. I do not deserve what I have. I do not deserve what I have received from God. But to God, love always goes beyond fairness; that is God’s way of being fair.
So, my question for you is: “Are you a runner?” How fast do you run?
God wants us to slow down a bit and look around. Look around and see who is behind you. Let’s see if we can walk together with them. “The first will be last, and last will be first.”