Summary: Jesus often responds to our innate sense of unfairness about things that happen (or don't happen) to us with the same words he spoke to the apostle Peter: "What is that to you?"...
What Is That To You?
October 3, 2010
Consider these two scenarios:
First, we have two men who are in the service. Both are capable, loyal, devoted men, committed to doing their jobs. Both were part of the same training regiment, and were close friends, having been together for quite a while. Their commanding officer sends both of them out into the field of service, but tells them in advance that, though both will serve for a period of time, one will be called upon to give his life in his service for his country, and the other will not.
In our second scenario, we see a couple of guys at the Day Labor office, looking for work. At the start of the workday, they’re hired for a fair wage for a full day’s work. But as the day goes on, they notice others are hired to help with the job too. A couple more guys come on the job just before lunch, a couple of others a while after lunch, and a few more just an hour before quitting time.
When the pay is handed out at the end of the day, the first two hired were at the end of the line. They saw that those hired later, even those hired just an hour before quitting time, got paid a full days wage, raising their expectations that they’d get more.
When they get to the front of the line, they get the same amount as those who worked as many as seven hours less than they did.
In both scenarios, our first, gut reaction is generally, that’s not fair. There’s something about our human nature that’s innately concerned about fairness. It comes naturally to us.
Now, the ideas of fairness that come naturally to us are not always sanctified – in other words, our natural ideas of fairness are not necessarily tempered by the Holy Spirit. But, our ideas of fairness are not all bad, either, and we realize that some things seem fair and some things don’t. Not a one of us hasn’t said, at some time in our lives, and some more than others, “that’s not fair.” We hear that all the time from our young children.
And because it seems to be such a significant part of our sensibilities, I believe there’s an important place for this rudimentary, fundamental understanding of what’s not fair and what isn’t. If it weren’t for this sense we have about fairness, it’s possible we might not care for the poor or needy, we might not care as much for the sick, or we wouldn’t feel compelled to fix things that were clearly inequitable that impacted other people.
So, while our innate understanding of fairness may be important to our daily functioning in the world, and can be a component of our compassion for others,
the Word of God sometimes turns this idea on its head, in ways that confront not so much our general understanding of fairness for others, but more our understanding of fairness as it applies to ME.
Reminds me of a scene in one of our favorite 70s TV Shows, WKRP in Cincinnati. It’s a line that Barb and I quote to each other in certain situations, and more than 30 years later, still brings a laugh. One of the characters was the sales guy at the radio station, Herb Tarlek. He was kind of an obnoxious sales type, wore loud polyester suits, and was generally fairly narcissistic.
One day, the staff was informed that the station might be bought by a new owner, and there was a distinct possibility the staff would all lose their jobs. They were all lamenting that possibility, when Herb steps to the center of the room, and says, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. How does this affect me?”
Most of you probably recognized both scenarios I outlined at the beginning as being stories from the Bible. One is a narrative with Jesus, Peter and John, soon after Jesus’ resurrection, and the other is a parable Jesus told his disciples.
Let’s first look at the story from John 21. The background here is Jesus reinstating Peter to ministry, as He asked Peter three times, “do you love me,” and three times, telling him, “then feed my sheep.”
Then, Jesus gives what we could classify as a troubling prophecy. On the one hand, we see that Peter will glorify God. On the other hand, we see he’s going to be martyred to do this. Speaking to Peter, Jesus says beginning with verse 18:
John 21:18-23 (NIV) I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!" Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"