What Justice Looks Like
Read The Parable of the Vineyard Matthew 20: 1-16
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend.Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
This parable about the workers in the vineyard is often read and interpreted as a story that I shows us that we live at God’s discretion. Like the vineyard owner, God can give whatever God wants to whoever God wants whenever God wants.
In many ways that is a fair read of this story. But if we read it through a social justice, anti-racist lens, this scripture becomes less about God making arbitrary choices that we just have flow with and more about the way in which God creates balance, the way in which God chooses to even playing fields and the way that those who have been privileged tend to react when equality comes.
Like many of the other parables, Jesus uses this one to explain something he’s just said that the people around him just don’t get. In this case it’s “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” He uses the parable to illustrate and help the people understand. The whole goal is to explain this coming kin-dom or reign of heaven or the kin-dom or reign of God.
So in this case kin-dom of heaven is like a place where the first are last and the last are first, a place where everyone receives the same benefit regardless of when they came to the table. Yet in the story when everything becomes equitable, those who were historically the most privileged did not celebrate the coming equity. They complained about what they experienced as an injustice.
This is a reality that is transferrable to some of what has been happening today. The white supremacist who marched with the tiki torches in Charlottesville were functioning like the workers who complained. The see equality as a threat to their wellbeing. They experience equity as injustice. They experience balance as a threat. That is because they have historically been the most privileged. This is as true for those who would chose to take to the streets spewing hate as it is for those who will silently resent things like Affirmative Action or Black Lives Matter because they feel like a threat.
In this text there is a message both for those who are privileged and those who have historically been underprivileged. To my white brothers and sisters, know that equity may feel like injustice. But just like the vineyard workers, allowing others to get what you’ve always had takes nothing away from you. Allow yourself to feel uncomfortable. Explore the discomfort but don’t let the discomfort put you in a position where you are obstructing justice.
For my sisters and brothers of color, this is a scary time. But it’s the death rattle of white supremacy and the birth pain of equity. Don’t give up even as face the violent protests of those whose privilege says you don’t deserve as much as they do. Remember that the kin-dom of heaven is at hand. God’s equity is at hand.