It Can Wait

Lately, AT&T has been encouraging people to wait.

UnknownThe phone giant has released ad campaign called “It Can Wait,” which exhorts people to pledge that they will refrain from sending or checking text messages while they are on the road.  The impulse for the campaign is both noble and necessary: texting while driving can impair reaction times six times as much as driving while legally intoxicated.  Thousands of people are killed on U.S. roads every year because they or other drivers were texting.  Naturally, the rationale for the campaign is quite simple: there is no need for me to respond to a text message as soon as I receive it.  I can wait until I’ve arrived safely at my destination.  Whatever I am being contacted about, in other words, it can wait.

Our failure to recognize that “it can wait” extends far beyond our insistence on immediate responses to text messages.  There is a general lack of patience, a corporate failure to wait that has become part of our culture over the past several decades.  In some ways, this is related to my previous comments about the fact that we need to remember the importance of Sabbath.  But this failure to wait also has a significant impact on our relationships with other people and with ourselves.  We tend to prize the quick response or witty retort in conversations, but we often forget to consider how what we say can impact the people around us.  This seems particularly true in Internet comment sections.  People are so concerned with responding to another comment with a pithy and sometimes acerbic retort that they forget there is another person behind the comment they just lampooned.  Moreover, people are so concerned with not taking themselves too seriously that their first inclination is to make a joke of everything that happens to them or that they participate in, thus robbing these experiences of any further significance.

Imagine how different our interactions with other people and our understanding of ourselves can be if we simply wait before we respond.  What if we waited before we provided a knee jerk reaction to a comment that makes our blood boil?  What if we took a moment and tried to make sense of an experience before we turned it into a joke?  What if our first response to other people was to wait and remember that they are created by God before we make fun of them for their beliefs?  I suspect that even these brief pauses allow us to begin seeing the world through God’s eyes.  Waiting allows us to recognize that we are all equal in the eyes of God.  So the next time you come up with exactly the right way to verbally harpoon someone who disagrees with you, remember that it can wait.

Unfair

Redskins Cowboys FootballOne of the ongoing conversations in the world of sports analysis is a discussion about parity in professional sports leagues.  In the past (so the narrative goes), leagues were divided between the elite teams who made it to the playoffs every year and the also-rans who only occasionally defied low expectations.  The result was that you could reliably predict the result of a game on the sole basis of which teams were playing.  Lately, however, leagues, especially the National Football League, have trended toward competitive equality; virtually every team has the potential to win every game it plays.  At the end of the most recent regular season, for instance, three of the four teams in the NFC East (the Cowboys, the Giants, and the Redskins) had the opportunity to make the playoffs, which is unprecedented in recent memory.  On the whole, sports fans have celebrated this trend toward parity, as it makes for much more exciting games.  Some fans of the traditionally dominant teams, however, have balked at this new equality.  Suddenly, the teams that they feel should win are being usurped by untalented pretenders who are reaping the benefits of profit-sharing and salary caps.  For those fans of the traditional sports powers, the new equality in professional sports seems colossally unfair.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus teaches about unfairness with the parable of the day laborers.  The scene would have been familiar to his hearers (and may be familiar to some of you who live in communities with a large population of migrant workers): a group of laborers are gathered in the town center early in the morning, waiting to be hired for the day.  A landowner hires a group of workers at 6:00, returning to the marketplace to hire more at 9:00, 12:00, and 3:00.  To each of these groups he says, “Go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.”  At 5:00, the landowner finds still more laborers who haven’t yet been hired, and sends them into the vineyard to work until the sun sets an hour later.  When it comes time to pay the laborers, the landowner pays those who were hired last a full day’s wage.  Those at the end of the line who have been working since 6:00 assume that if the people who had been working for an hour received a full day’s wage, they would certainly receive some kind of bonus.  Yet, when the time comes for them to receive their pay, the landowner gives them the normal daily wage.  The sunburned and exhausted laborers balk, but the landowner replies, “I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:14-15).

If this parable strikes you as unfair, that’s because it is.  By the normal standards of commerce, this parable describes an enormously unjust and out-of-touch employer.  How on earth does this guy expect to get people to work for him when he has such an arbitrary approach to paying his workers?  This parable, however, is not meant to describe a commercial situation, it is meant to explore the reality of God’s grace.  I think that all of us fall into the trap of imagining that God’s grace is somehow a commodity of which there is a limited quantity.  In our human accounting, we want to hoard the grace of God, to make sure that we have enough by keeping it away from those who don’t deserve it as much as we do.  But when we do that, grace is no longer grace.  The grace of God transcends what we think is fair, because God’s grace has come to those who have done nothing to deserve it.  Remember Paul’s observation in Romans: God proved God’s love for us because Jesus Christ died for us while we (all of us) were still sinners.  Most of us imagine that we are those laborers who got hired at 6:00; when we hear this story, we imagine that it is our backs that are aching and our skin that is sunburned.  But I think this parable invites us to realize that we might very well be among those who got hired at the eleventh hour.  We might very well be those who have only just begun to allow Jesus Christ to transform our lives through God’s grace.  Lent is when we come to this realization, when make ourselves constantly aware of God’s urgent call, when we prepare ourselves to experience the grace of God, and when we remember with deep gratitude that God is unfair.