Drew Tucker, Columbus, OH

Warm-up Question

Describe a time when someone has been unexpectedly generous. If they were generous to you, was anyone jealous of what you received? If they were generous to someone else, were you jealous?

Equity and Equality

In colleges and universities across the country, schools are discussing the importance of equity, and the difference between equity and equality. For instance, in this recent article about the equity approaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Shannon Watkins writes about the institution’s investment in a new “race and equality task force.” Equality is an approach that gives the same amount of resources, opportunities, or assistance to everyone.  Equity is an approach that gives everyone the amount of resources, opportunities, or assistance that they need in order to truly level the landscape. Of course, investing based on people’s specific needs means that some people will receive more, others less, and some, none at all.

While some might decry this as unfair, consider some of the ways equity already plays in our lives. For instance, at some church and university events, we provide audio assistance technology, closed captioning, and American Sign Language interpreters to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing. That’s a move toward equity, since not all people need access to those resources but they are ensured for those who need them.

Many churches have a relationship with a community like Haiti, where they take annual mission trips to places.  They invest a disproportionate amount of money, time, and relational resources because of the way Haiti has suffered due to natural and economic disasters. That’s an attempt at equity, not giving all people the same resources, but investing a specific set of resources in people who need specific kinds of support.

If a university admissions team visits college fairs attended by suburban schools with large transportation budgets, but visits individual urban high schools with smaller budgets and a higher proportion of Black, Latino/a, and other students of color, that’s a move of equity.  It ensures that students in the city know the college exists, as well as what academic, scholarship, and extracurricular opportunities are available for them. 

The goal of equity isn’t to give everyone the same thing. The goal is to give everyone what they need to succeed. This doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success, but it does remove unnecessary barriers from their journey toward thriving. 

Discussion Questions

  • If you have access to the internet, look at the cartoon by Angus Maguire in the article cited above. How does it illustrate the difference between equity and equality? 
  • Share one thing that you like and one thing that concerns you about an equity approach. 
  • What ways might an equity approach affect some of the conflict you see in our society today? 

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Jonah 3:10-4:11

Philippians 1:21-30

Matthew 20:1-16

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

When reading Jesus’s parables, it’s necessary to explore the story’s metaphor. We often assume certain characters stand for God, others for “good” people of faith, others for “bad” people of faith.  Every once in a while we assume a Satan or Antichrist character. One way to find the God character in parables is to locate the character who inverts cultural norms or status quo expectations. In this story, the landowner does just that.

The first workers, who agree to a wage when hired, expect more payment at the end of the day because the people who worked less time receive the wage to which the first workers agreed. We can  hear them cry out, “It’s not fair!” Jesus’ listeners would have agreed. Many of us would agree. We expect a wage based on the amount of hours we work or amount of product we produce. 

But Jesus says, “What I give you is not based on how much work you do. It’s based on the fact that I choose you in the first place.” We’re so used to earning appreciation, affirmation, respect, and love, that the concept of God choosing us, not for what we’ve earned, but because of divine generosity, seems ridiculous. We hear a challenge to the core of the social fabric. 

Rather than earning our way into God’s presence, God has given Godself to us, first at Christmas, in the person of Christ, and then on Pentecost, in the Holy Spirit. God chose to be with us here on earth. We didn’t earn it. And Jesus’ parable reveals that the same is true for heaven: God choosing us is what determines our destiny,  Not our good deeds. Not how long we’ve believed. Simply God’s gracious generosity. It does not matter if we were chosen early in the morning or brought into the fold late in the day.

In other words, God’s approach to us is one of equity, not equality. You might want to read this parable as equality, since everyone receives the same wage. But, a denarius was a high daily wage for unskilled labor, maybe even twice as much as they might usually expect. Thus, the workers are already promised very generous payment (at least, compared to their earning potential). The landowner offers people not just enough to survive, but enough for abundance. The landowner understands that everyone needs a daily wage to survive, so guarantees that their ability to earn won’t determine their ability to survive. He also understands that, to find a way out of poverty, they need more than what’s considered fair. So he blesses each of them with an unexpected and unearned abundance. 

And so it is with God. This story confounds attempts to establish fairness or equality as God’s intent for dealing with humanity. God offers us all the same divine presence and eternal blessing–regardless of our works, the strength of our faith, or the rightness of our belief. God offers us an overabundance, so that we can do more than just get by in faith, but thrive in faith. We receive whatever we need to live abundantly, some more, and some less, but all that is needed. Thanks be to God.

Discussion Questions

  • Imagine you were one of the first workers hired. How would you respond at the end of the day? How would that change if you were one of the last? 
  • God’s generosity is surprising to us all. Why do you think some people find that offensive?
  • If God gives someone else more than you, or more than they’ve earned, does that lessen God’s love for you? Why or why not? 

Activity Suggestions

  • Over Under – Using the data available from The Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count Data Center, you can create  simple over/under game played with students to address issues of inequity. For instance, using the numbers or percentages of children leave school without diplomas, teens aren’t working or in school, children who are homeless, and the like, you can highlight that there are particular students who have different needs than those experienced by others in your group. Present a number and have participants guess whether the real number is more or less. Give the real data and then introduce a conversation about how your church might consider supporting people with those specific needs as an act of equity. 
  • Generosity Tipping – To model the landowner’s generosity, talk with the youth about setting a certain percentage or dollar amount for every wait staff person who serves your group while on trips together. Invoke conversation from them and repeat the story to enculturate a sense of generosity rather than deserts. 
  • One to One – Sometimes, we don’t know the specific needs of our groups until we specifically ask. Institute a practice of 1×1, in public and accountable places, where you can invite conversation with individuals about what challenges they’re experiencing in the group and what resources might help them thrive. These could be relational challenges, like difficulty in the home or cultural distinctives, or resource challenges, like lack of personal computer access or limited funds to attend trips. 

Closing Prayer

Compassionate God, you meet the needs of every person, giving in abundance even when we have not earned it. Thank you for your generosity to us and your determination to share abundant life with us. Inspire us to share with others with the same vigor that you share with us. We pray this all in the name of Jesus: Amen.