Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
“Life’s not fair, and then you die” is a figure of speech you can hear repeated in my in-law’s home. It is a throwback to one of my mother-in-law’s many quips that she would say in response to her children’s normal statements. It might not be as witty as “then put mustard in your shoe,” in response to “there’s nothing to do,” but it does possess more relevance to today’s readings.
The first moment of relevance is Leviticus’ call for true fairness and justice in its jubilee law. The jubilee law demanded justice in the buying and selling of land. The need for the demand was that the jubilee law demanded the return of sold land at the jubilee. The scripture clearly states that it was the number of crops that are being sold, not the land. This is important because it takes a view that recognizes that in the end, ownership of the land doesn’t truly belong to a single individual. It belongs to a family, to a tribe, to the whole people of Israel, and ultimately to God. Do we approach our transactions that way? The value of a car can depreciate more than 10% in the first month. It still has most of its miles ahead of it but that is not how or why we assign it value. How can we give, buy, and sell in a way that still has a concern for the next steps beyond us? Do we make charitable donations to give good things to people in need or make us feel better about not throwing away our old junk?
But what of the claim that things aren’t fair? The second point of relevance is that I can almost hear Herod pouting that things “aren’t fair” in the Gospel. First, John admonishes him for the state of his relationship with Herodias. Second, he wants to kill John but can’t for fear of the people. Third, Herodias tricks him into promising to kill John in front of all his important guests. Finally, he hears of Jesus and believes that he is “John the Baptist … raised from the dead.” Can’t you hear him throwing a “life’s not fair” pity party?
Yet what he might have been experiencing as ‘unfairness’ would actually be him wrestling with justice. When we are the perpetrators of injustice or unfairness, the corrective measures by which things are restored often seem unfair to us. How easy it is to perpetrate injustice when we place ourselves above others though. When we claim absolute ownership of that which is not truly ours.
The ancient Israelites were the people of the promised land. They knew that their home was a gift. Thus it is logical for God to be the one to whom they answer should they act as lords of their land. The warning comes in these words, “Do no deal unfairly, then; but stand in fear of your God. I, the LORD, am your God.” How can we be a people of Jubilee seeing ourselves as fellow pilgrims in the desert and as stewards first?
- Spencer Hargadon