The work of equality
Our nations’ history and the biblical record both speak of the challenge in doing the work of treating all persons as equals.
Tradition. Heritage. Freedom. Each time I am fortunate enough to visit the area surrounding our nation’s capital, I cannot help but be reminded of these things. This week I am in Annandale, Virginia with my wife, Nancy, visiting our daughter and her family. Annandale is about 30 minutes from Washington D.C..
If you have visited this area before, then you know what I am talking about. There are so many historical sites that remind us of the journey of where tradition, heritage and freedom have taken our nation. Later this week, our family will make a 90-minute drive to Gettysburg, where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous address beginning with the words “Fourscore and seven years ago…” I am looking forward to being surrounded by the tradition, the heritage, and the air of freedom while visiting that time honored location.
In that famous speech, President Lincoln was referring to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Lincoln’s point in doing so was to highlight the fact that the battle of the Civil War was primarily fought because it was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Of course, today, we rightfully say that all “persons” are created equal.
But, are they? Are all persons equal?
In our hearts and minds, I’m certain we want to believe that. I want to believe it to be true. However, by the actions out there in the world, we have to shake our heads sadly and say, “No, all persons are not being treated as such.” If you are a woman in Afghanistan, you are not being treated equally as a man is treated.
Sadly, not just in that country, but in many countries, women are not treated as equals. Persons who are from a different religious expression have experienced inequalities in how they have been treated by some in the world. Without question, the poor and the marginalized in many nations could point to a disparity in how they are handled by society. So, while we’d love to believe it to be true, not all persons are treated as equals.
What does it look like, then, to treat all persons as equals, especially if we are unable to envision it in reality today?
Let’s look at one particular story from the Bible that might help us see what being equal really means.
It’s from a parable of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20:1-16. Jesus was telling this story to illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like. When you read the story, you hear of several persons who come to work at different times of the day — some early, some later in the day, some when the day is almost done.
When it comes time to be paid, every person receives the same wage! Doesn’t matter if you were here all day — you get the same as each person who eventually showed up for work. Doesn’t matter if you only put in about an hour — you get the same as each person who eventually showed up for work.
I have struggled with this story in the past because I worked in the business sector before entering the ministry. I know people would have a hard time accepting the fact that people who showed up late to the party would receive the same benefits as those who were there the entire time. But that is the humanity within me that struggles with it.
We’d cry, “Not fair!” and, more than likely, we’d join a protest against such an employer who would not give a fair share across the board. Again, that’s humanity. God views people differently. Everyone has the same chance. Everyone gets the same reward. Everyone is equal in God’s sight.
Next week, we will celebrate Labor Day — a day of rest set aside for those workers who have worked hard throughout the year. It’s a much needed and well-deserved day of rest. This next point needs to be said — this isn’t meant to diminish the efforts of those who have worked hard their entire lives. There is something noble, honorable and important about that kind of effort. Make no mistake about that. And certainly, it is challenging to embrace the notion that everyone should be treated equally when we may not believe that to be true in certain situations.
All that aside, there is also something important about valuing and treating all persons with respect and honor. It is reflected in our nations’ traditions, our heritage, our freedoms. We have all of those things to remind us of the great nation that we are — one that values the lives of all persons… equally.