It isn’t fair – one size does not fit all

Pentecost 22

Luke 18:18-30

Marian Free

In the name of God whose radical unfairness, challenges us to rethink our sense of justice. Amen.

There is a song by an Australian band called Moving Pictures which became one of our family anthems. The chorus goes: “What about me? It isn’t fair, I’ve had enough now I want my share.”  You can almost hear these words coming from Peter in today’s gospel: “What about us? It isn’t fair, we’ve left everything and we want our share.”

Peter has been eavesdropping on the conversation between the ruler and Jesus and it seems that he simply has to interrupt. His childish sense of justice gets the better of him. If the ruler must sell everything to inherit the kingdom, then surely he and the other disciples are home and hosed. However he is not entirely confident, what if after all everything they have done is not enough? Peter wants to make sure that Jesus has noted disciples’ commitment and sacrifice and that he can tell them that what they have done will be enough. “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.”

Peter’s statement is very direct: “Look!” he says. Peter is demanding Jesus’ attention. He is drawing Jesus focus away from the ruler and bringing Jesus’ attention to himself. His insecurity is obvious for everyone to see. He sounds very much like an attention-seeking child: “Look at me, I can do it too. Look at me, I’m special too. Look at me, notice me. See how much I have done for you. It’s not fair, I’ve done just as much, I deserve a reward as well.”

One of the things about the apostle Peter is that it is very easy to identify with his humanity – his impatience, his failure to understand, and, in this instance his need for everything to be fair. Children in particular have a keen sense of justice. Anyone who has ever been a child and anyone who has been a parent knows only too well the refrain: “It isn’t fair – she started it, he got more than me.” and so on. Peter is concerned to establish that God is fair – that God has certain criteria which must be met and that if one meets them one’s place in the kingdom is assured. If as Jesus has said to the ruler, the criterion is to sell everything then surely he (and the other disciples) have well and truly fulfilled the criteria – they have left their homes and followed Jesus. Peter thinks in terms of comparison – am I as good as or better than someone else? Peter is concerned about what is fair – if that person gets into heaven because they have done such and such, then if I do the same, then so must I. According to Peter’s sense of justice, there must be one rule, one criterion, one set of standards for entry into the kingdom. In his view of the world there must be one size which fits all.

The problem for Peter, as for us all, that there is not one set of criteria that fits every situation and every person. Jesus demonstrated over and again that sets of rules were inadequate to provide an accurate guide as to who would and who would not enter the kingdom of heaven. People like the Pharisees who relied on the law often found themselves the victims of Jesus’ harshest criticism. Dependence on the law as a measure of righteousness often had the affect of creating a legalistic mindset which was unable to see beyond the rules to exercise the kind of compassion and understanding which the law was intended to foster. Reliance on the law provided a false sense of security, it led people to believe that they could earn credits by behaving in a certain way whether or not their hearts were really in it. On the other hand, Jesus reveals that the most surprising people, people who do not obey the law in the conventional sense, who will enter the kingdom of heaven. Tax-collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven first.

There is no one size fits all. God sees into the hearts of all of people and understands their motivations. God knows when the law-abiding among us hide their sins of disdain for others, their arrogance and their self-assurance. Likewise God knows that many people who do not fulfill the letter of the law, show in their lives humility and generosity of spirit which no law can enforce. Comparing ourselves against others, measuring our goodness against the failings of others demonstrates not only our failure to trust in God’s judgement, but also a blindness to our own faults and a lack of compassion for the weaknesses of others.

The ruler who comes to Jesus has a commendable amount of insight. His is not a superficial faith. He is aware that even though he obeys the law, something is missing in his relationship with God. He comes to Jesus, not to boast about his achievements, but to ask what more he should do. Did he think that Jesus would make him feel better by saying that he was doing enough? Did he hope that Jesus would simply encourage him to enhance his prospects of eternal life, by adding prayer and fasting to his law-observant behaviour? What we do know is that Jesus’ suggestion that he sell all that he owned and give the money to the poor was not an answer he expected and that it was not something he felt that he could do, at least not in the present.

The point is that the commandments alone were not sufficient for the ruler. Jesus perceived that what he needed was a complete re-ordering of his life. He needed to share God’s compassion for the poor and the outcast instead of hiding behind his rule-observant behaviour and taking no responsibility for the suffering in the world. In the same way, there was not rule or law that could assure Peter of his place in the kingdom. Peter would have to examine his own life to discover what was missing. It’s not fair, there is not one rule that fits all, Peter’s story is not the ruler’s story, the ruler’s story is not the basis for or the measure against which the success of Peter’s story can be determined. Nor is it necessarily the basis for, or the gauge against which our lives will be measured.

What must I do to inherit the kingdom of God. Each of us must ask our own question of Jesus. Each of us must examine our own lives to determine what is missing in our own relationship with God. Each of us must be open to the answer that we are given. It isn’t fair, there isn’t one size that fits all. The good news is that we won’t all be asked to sell everything and give the money to the poor. The bad news is that being good isn’t enough. God asks that we give nothing less than our all.

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