Life Is Unfair

(Nineteenth Sunday, Year C)

"...there is always inequity in life.
Some men are killed in a war and some men are wounded,
and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed
in the Antarctic and some men are stationed in San Francisco.
It is very hard in the military or personal life to assure complete equality.
Life is unfair." Press conference, March 21, 1962,

When John Kennedy made that statement, many considered him a prime example of how unfair life is. Born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, he was the youngest person elected to the presidency. However, few realized he suffered from Addison’s disease and no one knew he would be assassinated twenty months later. Life is unfair.

That unfairness seems to extend even to salvation. Today’s biblical lessons describe how God called Abraham and through him formed a chosen people. They had advantages not given to other nations. And from them God singles out a maiden of whom the Messiah is born. Though his mission is to all, only some would have the opportunity to know him. What are we to make of such inequality?

Today’s Gospel gives a response, but first we must consider a prior question: Why does inequity disturb us? The natural world, of which we are a part, gives no encouragement to hope for fair play. Just the opposite - nature is marked by terrible unfairness. The strong prosper; the weak are eliminated. When a predatory animal such as a lion attacks a herd, he does not go after the strongest; but the weakest, slowest, often youngest animal. We do not accuse the lion – or any mere animal – of injustice. Nevertheless, we judge our fellow men by different criteria. A human predator - especially the one who preys on the defenseless - is scorned by all, including the most cynical. Where does our standard of fair play come from?

Even little children complain when they perceive unequal treatment. We want life to be fair, but it is not - and often in bafflingly horrible ways. The unfairness of life causes sensitive people to doubt God. That is a normal reaction. Yet the very questioning contains a powerful evidence for his existence. The standard of equity does not come from the natural world - other animals exhibit no interest in fair play. Why do we feel that standard so strongly?

The question seems to involve a circle with no exit. If a just God exists, why is life so terribly unfair? But then how do we recognize injustice, unless we admit that our standard of fairness comes from somewhere else than the natural world?*

Only Jesus breaks through the dilemma. He does so not by proposing a human philosophy, but rather by what we refer to as the Pascal Mystery – the Cross. However, knowing we are relentless questioners, he does give some insights. We see one in today’s Gospel.

Peter appreciated his privilege: to know Jesus personally, to hear his teaching, to experience the miracles, to be entrusted with a mission. Still, the apostle asked about those who had not received such favors. "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?" (Lk 12:41) Jesus gives this response:

"That servant who knew his master's will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master's will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." (vv. 47-48)

Hearing those words, Peter may have had a second thought. Is it better, then, to be blissfully ignorant? We have no scale to weigh such matters.** Like Peter, much has been entrusted us. God has given us the prime gift: faith. Referring to Abraham, our second reading offers this definition:

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen. (Hb 11:1)

Faith is a singular gift. But it involves a corresponding duty. That some apparently have not received the grace does not make us less responsible. Entrusted with so much, more will be demanded.

**********

*Readers of C.S. Lewis will recognize the argument. For a more complete (and better expressed) exposition, I encourage you to read Abolition of Man, Miracles and of course, Mere Christianity.

**It's like asking why I'm Phil Bloom, not Alexander the Great. Or, like Hamlet, to ponder the most fundamental puzzle - whether it would better to exist or not exist. The cosmos provides no balance to weigh those alternatives.

Spanish Version

From Archives (19th Sunday, Year C):

2013: Be Prepared
2010: Hour Least Expected
2007: Salvation and Damnation
2004: No Hurry
2001: Life Is Unfair
1998: Love is Strong as Death

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Human Equality and the Issue of Women Priests

Bulletin (Goals of Courage)

Announcements

Stem Cell Research: Why the Controversy?

Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."

Germaine Greer on Birth Control

My bulletin column(Aug 1, 2010)

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(July 2010)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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World Youth Day 2013

(about 40 pictures in a slide show)

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

(new, professional website)

KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)

A Homilist's Prayer

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