School is in full swing and once again I hear the voices of angels calling out to each other outside in the play yard during recess and P.E. Amidst all of the laughter, shouting, and general mayhem, occasionally, I hear the familiar cry, “BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR!” And I wonder, how early on in their young lives did they pick up the notion and the idea that something is or is not fair. Did they get it first from a parent or a sibling or, perhaps, from a playmate? A parent, it seems to me, even though they believe it was he or she that got the idea across, must still be at least startled the first time one’s own child pronounces the “fair or not fair” judgment upon something the parent has done—some decision or command that he or she has made. “Mom, you and Dad get to drink the red stuff in that bottle before dinner and I never get to. That’s not fair!”
Or perhaps more germane to today’s passage: “Dad, you and Mom always give each other more money when we go to the store than you give to me. That’s not fair!” To which observation Mom or Dad replies, “Are you envious because Mom and Dad are generous with each other? Are we not free to do with our own money as we wish? Honey, we are not cheating you. Here, take your usual 35 cents allowance and go!” See how useful and practical today’s gospel is?
For us Christians, on the difficulty scale “The last will be first and the first will be last” is right up there with “Turn the other cheek!” The whole idea of a deathbed conversion or confession—or the last rites and absolution given to a convicted serial killer—grates against most people’s sense of fairness. “But what about the rest of us who live decent lives for decades and work at keeping the commandments every day of our lives? You mean to tell me that I’m supposed to believe that this creep will get into heaven after his lethal injection even before I will?” What are we to say of God’s dispensation of grace, forgiveness and salvation? Is God not allowed to save the way God chooses to?
The first reading and responsorial spoke of “our God who is generous in forgiving,” whose “thoughts are not our thoughts” and who “is near to ALL who call upon him.” Is it not, therefore, our place as his creatures to be humble before him and ultimately to surrender our (sometimes hasty and emotion-packed) judgment to his merciful, divine judgment? On this Earth our judgments and thoughts are and will always be human and therefore incomplete and imperfect—not omniscient. The God who made us knows us better than we know ourselves. We have every reason to curb our temptations to be the judge, the jury, and the executioner—every reason to be humble. I would wager that the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist would not have objected to this observation.
That’s my judgment.