Justice and Privilege

Jonah is paired with Jesus’ parable about the vineyard laborers, in order to teach us a difficult truth, calling  us to confront it rather than sticking our fingers in our ears repeating ‘I can’t hear you’, and to  encourage us to live further into the Kingdom of God that is here in glimpses, near, and not yet fulfilled.

Jonah is sent to the people of Nineveh, these were non-Israelites and thus the ‘unworthy others’ who Jonah would prefer to witness God’s wrath upon rather than their pardon.

Jonah was spit out upon the shore and in whispered tones, hopeful none would hear and heed, delivers God’s message that if the people of Nineveh did not repent it would cease to exist in 40 days.

The people of Nineveh heard. The people of Nineveh repented. God did not destroy the people.

Jonah was angry. Jonah goes outside of town, finds shade, and throws a temper-tantrum cursing God.

God sends a worm to kill the bush providing said shade.
Jonah, again, throws a temper-tantrum cursing God.

God can handle our anger, but God will also hold us accountable for the root of said anger.

Jonah is angry because God did not punish the other and is not offering him the relief of shade. Jonah’s anger is rooted in sin, or self-centeredness, and not against injustice.

God teaches Jonah (and us) that these “others” are also God’s children, whom God created and loves deeply.

Jonah (and us) should NOT be angry. God’s steadfast love, mercy, compassion and grace is abundant enough to be extended to all persons, including the “other” in Nineveh.

In Matthew, we have a parable taught by Jesus.

There are day laborers hired to work in a vineyard, but despite hired at different points of the day all received a full day wage. The laborers hired earlier, thus having worked more hours,  were angry.

As I pondered the scriptures, I realized that since living in California, Washington, and Indiana I cannot recall encountering day laborers. In Arizona, it is a common sight for day laborers to be in the parking lot of the local Circle K and home improvement stores. These individuals are often Hispanic or Latino men, documented or undocumented, who depend on being hired for the day to complete a task. Their labor is cheap, in fact cheap enough you can argue that their ability to met basic needs of food and shelter tomorrow depend on their opportunity to work today. 

In the biblical era and our modern day, it highlights an economically flawed system rooted in injustice. It is not limited to our day laborer siblings either, but extends widely in the United States where prior to COVID19 it was estimated that 75% of Americans were only one to two paychecks from homelessness AND most minimum wage employment at 40 hours a week cannot cover rent let alone other basic needs.

This includes our seasonal migrate agricultural workers who serve in the fields and the factories for minimal wages in often unsafe and unregulated environments.

It is the waitress, whose hourly wage is below minimum wage, who must depend on tips to survive.

It is the single mother, who works a regular 40-hour job plus two additional part-time positions.
It is her tips from  the waitressing gig that provides food on the table for her two children.

It is the young adult who heard their entire life “college, college, college” and instead of economic advancement are drowning in student loan debt that was a necessary evil for said education.

It is the school teacher who must work an additional job in the evenings or on the weekend, but still sleeps in her car unable to afford rent.

It is the associate pastor who lives in her local homeless shelter unable to afford food and shelter.

It is the children of the impoverished working-poor, who depend upon their school for food each day.

The reality of socio-economic injustice is all to real within our world, our nation. The American notion that one can climb said economic ladder easily is a myth.

Jesus’ parable includes the earlier hired laborers as satisfied with their agreed upon full day wage, but that was until those hired later were given the same full day wage. The previously hired become angry, throw a tantrum, and perhaps curse the land owner for his generosity to the other.

Similar to the day laborers in Arizona, these laborers and their families probably depended on said wage to provide their basic need of food and shelter for tomorrow. The land owner, arguably God, reminds these men that the land owner has the choice to be abundantly generous.

We, as the followers of Christ, are called to likewise be abundantly generous in sharing love, compassion, mercy, and grace to our vulnerable siblings.

Again, God can handle our anger, tantrums, and cursing but will hold us accountable for the root of it.

Again, these laborers’ anger is rooted in their own sin, or self-centeredness,  and not against injustice.

These laborers (and us) have a sense of entitlement, perhaps at the harm to a vulnerable sibling.

The truths of these passages include:

  1. God created and deeply loves ALL persons, including the Nineveh “other” and these “other” laborers.
  2. God deeply cares about the well-being of ALL persons, especially the vulnerable. 
  3. God has provided the world, this nation with an abundance of resources that we do not share well.
  4. We are called to share resources, love, compassion, mercy, and grace to bring forth God’s Kingdom.

These truths are not limited to discussion within this sermon or the church universal, for it is a conversation throughout our world, our nation. It is a conversation about ‘privilege’, who has it, and how might it be used justly for the sake of the world and for Christians the sake of the Kingdom to Come. 

We must pull the fingers from our own ears and listen to the reality that we have privilege, which does not mean that our lives have been without challenges or that we have a home on easy street. Privilege simply means that certain aspects of our identity and lives have not further challenged it.

For example:
As a white American who self-identifies my gender as my biological sex, who is romantically attracted to the opposite gender/sex, and who is a Christian…
I have privilege that is not granted to our brown, black, LBGQT+, and non-Christian siblings.

Now, they have never asked for an apology, simply that I acknowledge my privilege and stand with them in their struggle for equality and equity.

As a non-wealthy woman, I do not have the privilege of being a person of wealth or a man. I have never asked the wealthy or men to apology, but to simply acknowledge that I lack said privilege and to stand with me for equality and equity.

Our privilege or lack thereof also includes our physical, mental, and intellectual abilities and otherwise.

One challenge we face is the urge to become angry, such as Jonah or the laborers, when an under-privileged person or persons is offered the same opportunities as the privileged. Those opportunities, the steadfast love, compassion, mercy, and grace is JUSTICE and a glimpse of the Kingdom to Come here and now.

The anger that may arise is rooted in sin, or self-centeredness, and the fear that our comfortable entitlement and privilege may be diminished… However, it is not a pie.

Our sinful humanity, has taught us and poisoned our souls to believe that justice, compassion, mercy, grace, and love are limited resources afforded to some at the cost of another. Justice, compassion, mercy, grace, and love are NOT limited resources, but God reminds us that these are abundant enough for all persons, all creatures, and the entire creation. The beauty is that justice, compassion, mercy, grace, and love does  not cost our privilege a thing, in fact it draws us further into God’s Kingdom to Come here now in glimpses, near, and not yet fulfilled.

May we recognize our own privilege and
stand with the under-privileged in their struggle.

May we rejoice when justice, compassion, mercy, grace, and
love is further extended.

May we become angry at the injustice and
the lacking compassion, mercy, grace, and love that harms a sibling.

May we be a divine presence of abundant compassion, mercy, grace, and
love to ALL persons.


Scriptures were Jonah 3:10-4:11 and Matthew 20: 1-16.
Originally preached on 20 Sept. 2020 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, IN)

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