Life doesn’t seem fair right now. Life where a narcissist can talk and talk about himself and be cheered for doing a bad job while a humble leader has all his hard and good work overturned in the meantime doesn’t seem fair. Life where a suspected sexual abuser and rapist with at very least severe anger management issues goes without a real trial receives one of the highest standings in the American justice system while one of the greatest directors of Marvel movies gets fired for an edgy joke he made 10 years ago doesn’t seem fair. Life where a kid from the suburbs can have a high-powered rifle and murder a half dozen innocent people be labelled as mentally unstable while an immigrant who does the same thing is labelled a terrorist doesn’t seem fair.
Granted all of those examples are about our neighbours to the south, but we have a few of our own too. It’s not fair that all churches in Canada have such a bad reputation because of what other churches have done or said in the way of social justice. It’s not fair that our indigenous brothers and sisters have to face certain hardships because of what happened so long ago that was out of our control. It’s not fair that in this day and age where we claim to be the most welcoming and diverse country in the world, that we still face racism, sexism, and religious fundamentalism that continues to segregate us all.
It just isn’t fair.
We sit on this side of the fairness scale and we’re angry. We look at the way the world has gone for those who get it better than us and we are frustrated. We sometimes even look at our lives compared to others and we pout and think that we deserve what they have more than they do.
So when will it be our turn? When will the little people finally win? When will that old saying of the good guy comes last become so out of the norm that people will scratch their heads if you would even bring it up? When will there be justice for just us?
I mean, that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? Really, it just isn’t fair only because we didn’t get what we wanted, right? For those who did, life is great! For those who live under that golden tree where apples keep falling all day, things couldn’t be better. For those who are just surrounded by, engulfed in, and even ooze privilege… well, life can actually be pretty good. They don’t need to work for justice because they already have everything they need. They don’t have to worry about anything or anyone because everything can be taken care of with just a little cash and maybe a phone call or two to their parents’ contacts and acquaintances, neither of which are really any problem. Life seems pretty fair to them because in their eyes, they have everything they deserve, and they deserve everything they have.
At least, that is how we see it in our eyes.
Take today’s gospel lesson for instance. This rich dude comes running up to Jesus, brown-nosing like the best of them, asking how he can inherit eternal life. We don’t know exactly the motivations for his line of questioning, but we can guess. It almost seems like he has this snarky attitude, like he wants to show off to his friends that Jesus confirms that he’s an exemplary citizen and that he needn’t worry about his eternity because it’s all taken care of already.
That’s privilege for you, right? When you don’t have to worry about your next paycheque, or retirement savings, or what Ivy League college you can buy your kids into. This rich guy is probably used to not having to worry about this kind of stuff, he’s probably used to not having to follow orders but giving them instead… he’s probably used to just getting everything that he wants. So asking Jesus this question might not really be about asking the question rather than just reaffirming everything he already thinks he knows. Even after Jesus tells him that he’s supposed to follow the commandments the guy has the gall to say back, “well yeah, I’ve been doing those my whole life!”
Stand back everyone, we have a real life Mr Perfect here. I mean, he hasn’t done a single thing wrong in his life. Rich, male, AND a good person. Grade A. But we know his attitude doesn’t last. Jesus tells him. “go sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.”
If you listen closely, you’ll hear Jesus’ mic drop just as the man’s heart breaks. He’s a rich man. He has a lot of things. How can he ever liquidate all his assets at pennies on the dollar and then just give it all away? That’s crazy talk. It’d be a slap in the face of all the hard work he’s put in his entire life. It’d be a slap in his parents’ face for him squandering his inheritance. It’d be a slap in God’s face for him to waste his blessings like that.
So he walks away in defeat. Disillusioned. Disappointed. Deflated.
And as we heard Jesus’ mic drop and the man’s heart break, if we listen really closely we might have heard the disciples high fiving each other in the background. You showed him, Jesus! You put him in his place. He thought his riches and power would make him good but you told him otherwise! *snap Mmm-hmm
Then Jesus goes and gives his very famous line, “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” At this point, the very poor, living by faith disciples are probably so very smugly sitting all smug very smug-like, and they asked, perhaps with the same “prove me right, Jesus” attitude and asked “then who can be saved?” Maybe hoping Jesus would exclaim, “why, you of course, my beloved and faithful disciples!”
But he doesn’t. He says it’s impossible for mortals. Yeah, the rich man is a mortal, but… so are the disciples. Wait… so are we. It’s impossible?
Another mic drop. Another round of hearts break. And Peter goes up in arms, “Look, we have left everything and followed you, now you’re saying it means nothing?” Can you blame Peter? He’s right, you know. They did leave everything to follow Jesus. They left their nets, their boats, their families, and just followed.
But Jesus says that isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough to try to be or think that you are good like the rich guy and apparently the disciples. It isn’t good enough to be all legalistic in your rules and laws and flaunt it by putting down others who don’t do the same. It isn’t good enough to think that you deserve to be saved because you checked off a laundry list of do’s and don’t’s. Because the fact of the matter is that it is impossible for us to ever save ourselves. It is impossible for us to ever have that justice. It is impossible for us as mere mortals to ever have a life that is fair.
Because life just isn’t fair. No matter how good we think we are, we aren’t good enough. No matter how privileged we think we should be, we don’t deserve everything. No matter what our ideas of justice could be, it will always seem to side with the other.
As Jesus looked upon the arrogant rich man, as Jesus chooses his disciples however wayward and fallen, as Jesus stretches his arms out for all people, he did it out of love, grace, and mercy. Jesus doesn’t condemn the rich man who probably didn’t sell all his stuff and give it to the poor. Jesus didn’t shoo away his disciples who thought they were the greatest because they gave everything up to follow him. And Jesus doesn’t ignore us and cast us out of God’s kingdom because we didn’t sell all our stuff to give to the poor either, nor did we give everything up to follow Jesus. Instead, Jesus loves and saves us anyway.
So yeah, life isn’t fair. Life isn’t full of privilege. Life isn’t about justice.
But life, life as God intended, life lived with Jesus at our side, life experienced in God’s kingdom and filled with God’s Spirit is about hope. It’s about grace. And it’s about mercy. That while things don’t seem good now, while things don’t seem to ever get better, while life just seems unfair, we know that God, too, is unfair but our favour. God too, acts unjustly when God decides to love and save us. God disregards all that we’ve earned and deserve and gives us so much more.
You see, however we slice life we can see ourselves at the short end. Wherever we might build those fences it might always seem greener on the other side. Whomever we might consider more or less deserving than us actually hasn’t ever or will be up to us to judge. Instead, God invites us all into God’s kingdom. God welcomes us all into God’s church. God gathers us all together as the body of Christ, loving and serving each other by the power of the Spirit.
Is it hard for someone who is rich to enter into the kingdom of God? Yeah, but it’s also hard for someone who isn’t rich to enter into the kingdom of God. I don’t even want to think about that poor camel squeezing in through that eye of a needle. But to get that camel through there you just need a lot of determination and perhaps some very sharp tools. But to get into the kingdom, what you need is a life. A life full of love, grace, and mercy. A life full of service, inclusion, and community. A life humble enough to be willingly given up for his enemies.
Thankfully for us, God gave that life. And God continues to give us life, that we might live in abundance of joy and blessing. With that in mind we can see just how we are all equal. We can see how God’s justice works so differently from our sense of justice. We can see how we are all equally broken, equally in need, equally privileged to be saved by the open arms of the cross.
As we continue in our green season of church growth and ministry, may we reach out in our hands of grace and mercy to all those who we feel more or less privileged that we, and reveal to all the fairness and justice of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.