Matthew 20:1-16: What Is Fair?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Matthew 20:1-16: What Is Fair? 

This week’s reading relates the parable who said that the “kingdom of heaven is like” a householder who paid all laborers the same amount, regardless of how long they worked. I will offer a perspective on this parable that borrows from mimetic theory.
Because we care a great deal about our status, we find ourselves in rivalries with other people. We want to be in positions of superiority, particularly if we believe that “deserve” greater status. In the “kingdom of heaven,” there are no inherent differences between individuals, and everyone gladly shares with each other, regardless of productivity.

Historically, such communalism has generally worked much better in smaller, tight-knit communities than in larger nation-states. However, I don’t think Jesus was as concerned with such practical matters as with articulating the ideal, because in the kingdom of heaven there are no rivalries or conflicts, and therefore there is no violence.
People want what is “fair,” but a major problem is that self-interest colors perceptions of what is fair. To illustrate, in the United States there are often bitter conflicts on how the tax burden should be meted out. If income generation were totally just, and if government programs benefitted all citizens roughly equally, then all people should pay the same taxes, regardless of income.

While income is related to quality and quantity of work, most people agree that it is not totally just. For example, people do not have equal access to crucial educational resources or to more lucrative jobs. What, then, is “fair” income and “fair” taxation? Without a clear answer, people will often feel embittered by what they regard as unfair treatment, and such bitterness can easily lead to violence.
It is not easy to reconcile the ideal to which Jesus pointed with the limitations that human nature seems to impose on social arrangements. At the very least, we should grant basic rights to everyone, which includes the right not to be enslaved and the right not to be tortured, abused, or murdered. These rights are routinely violated when it comes to nonhuman beings. If we are to start to move toward the world for which Jesus prayed – “Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven” – then we must stop perpetrating acts of violence and injustice upon innocent individuals. 

Go on to: Matthew 22:15-22: What Belongs to God?
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