Father Koch: Fairness and justice are seldom the same

September 21, 2023 at 11:41 a.m.
Father Garry Koch reflects on the themes of justice and fairness. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Father Garry Koch reflects on the themes of justice and fairness. Photo from Shutterstock.com (Shutterstock/Trenton Monitor)


Gospel reflection for Sept. 24, 2023, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus tells a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven that doesn’t sound fair to most hearers.

A landowner offers the same wage -- the usual daily wage -- to those who worked anywhere from one hour to a full day. The full-day workers, as they saw others coming into the vineyard throughout the day, expected more. While it doesn’t sound fair to us, it is, nonetheless, just.

That which is just and that which is fair do not often overlap, and this is one of those times. The vinedresser is free to do with his money as he wishes, and no one has a right to expect any more. The Lord is always just, even if at times, it doesn’t seem that he is treating us all fair.

This struggle between justice and fairness impacts our daily lives more often than we might realize. For a variety of reasons, we tend to equate justice with fairness and, when we make the distinction between them, we are more likely to prefer fair to just. This is itself neither fair nor just.

Fairness demands an equality of outcomes. Justice demands and equality of opportunity. While we argue so often for justice and believe all-too often that the justice has been somehow subverted, it usually means that we think the outcome is not fair.

The context for the parable concerns the basic question as to the nature of God’s blessings bestowed upon the faithful adherents to the Law; the place of Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven relative to the place of the Jews; and then also the place in the Kingdom of Heaven for those who have been righteous throughout their lives relative to those who experienced a later-in-life conversion.

So, whether a faithful Jew, a faithful lifelong Christian, or someone who heeded the call to conversion late in life (perhaps even on one’s death bed) there is but one heaven. Heaven is not designed like MetLife Stadium where there are field seats, box seats, the mezzanine, and what we often call nosebleed seats.

Many people will argue that this is not fair. There should be some benefit to the constancy of faithfulness in one’s life -- or perhaps there should be a penalty to one’s obstinacy throughout life.

In this life, reflecting on this parable can lead some to sin! Rejecting the message or developing a sense of jealousy or futility at the steadfast life of discipleship can then be discouraged by the parable.

St. John Chrysostom observed that this parable has parallels to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel: “The son who was righteous is shown to have suffered from this same fault when he saw his prodigal brother enjoying great honor, even more than himself. So just as the one group received greater reward in being the first to receive it, so the other group was more highly honored by the abundance of the gifts; and to these that righteous son bears witness.”

We are all made equal in justification through the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and, as we often overlook these days, through the further cleansing of our sinful nature after death in purgatory.

We many not all take the same path, but we pray that we all share together in the eternal heavenly banquet won and promised to us by Jesus Christ. It should be our desire that all people share in this one banquet instead of concerning ourselves with the nature of the promise given to all.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.


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Gospel reflection for Sept. 24, 2023, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus tells a parable about the Kingdom of Heaven that doesn’t sound fair to most hearers.

A landowner offers the same wage -- the usual daily wage -- to those who worked anywhere from one hour to a full day. The full-day workers, as they saw others coming into the vineyard throughout the day, expected more. While it doesn’t sound fair to us, it is, nonetheless, just.

That which is just and that which is fair do not often overlap, and this is one of those times. The vinedresser is free to do with his money as he wishes, and no one has a right to expect any more. The Lord is always just, even if at times, it doesn’t seem that he is treating us all fair.

This struggle between justice and fairness impacts our daily lives more often than we might realize. For a variety of reasons, we tend to equate justice with fairness and, when we make the distinction between them, we are more likely to prefer fair to just. This is itself neither fair nor just.

Fairness demands an equality of outcomes. Justice demands and equality of opportunity. While we argue so often for justice and believe all-too often that the justice has been somehow subverted, it usually means that we think the outcome is not fair.

The context for the parable concerns the basic question as to the nature of God’s blessings bestowed upon the faithful adherents to the Law; the place of Gentiles in the Kingdom of Heaven relative to the place of the Jews; and then also the place in the Kingdom of Heaven for those who have been righteous throughout their lives relative to those who experienced a later-in-life conversion.

So, whether a faithful Jew, a faithful lifelong Christian, or someone who heeded the call to conversion late in life (perhaps even on one’s death bed) there is but one heaven. Heaven is not designed like MetLife Stadium where there are field seats, box seats, the mezzanine, and what we often call nosebleed seats.

Many people will argue that this is not fair. There should be some benefit to the constancy of faithfulness in one’s life -- or perhaps there should be a penalty to one’s obstinacy throughout life.

In this life, reflecting on this parable can lead some to sin! Rejecting the message or developing a sense of jealousy or futility at the steadfast life of discipleship can then be discouraged by the parable.

St. John Chrysostom observed that this parable has parallels to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel: “The son who was righteous is shown to have suffered from this same fault when he saw his prodigal brother enjoying great honor, even more than himself. So just as the one group received greater reward in being the first to receive it, so the other group was more highly honored by the abundance of the gifts; and to these that righteous son bears witness.”

We are all made equal in justification through the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and, as we often overlook these days, through the further cleansing of our sinful nature after death in purgatory.

We many not all take the same path, but we pray that we all share together in the eternal heavenly banquet won and promised to us by Jesus Christ. It should be our desire that all people share in this one banquet instead of concerning ourselves with the nature of the promise given to all.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

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