After learning the word "no!" when we were little kids, the next most popular phrase we might have learned would have been "That's not fair!" - especially if we have brothers and sisters.
Whether it was a real or imagined disparity of privileges or gifts, a parental inconsistency, a sudden change of rules - whatever it might be - we kids were quick to spot it and point it out. Fairness is something we have desired since childhood, and while as adults we may never say "that's not fair," I'm sure we all think it once in a while.
The people of Israel, as reported by the Prophet Ezekiel, sometimes thought in this way about God. "The Lord's way is not fair," Ezekiel gives as a typical response of the people to God. "It's not fair that God led us into the desert where we are hungry and thirsty . . . It's not fair that God made us wander for 40 years in the desert . . . It's not fair that . . ." - well, you get the picture.
We do the same thing. "It's not fair that he died so young . . . It's not fair that I have to work so hard and everything comes so easy to her . . . It's not fair that people are starving all over the world and God won't do anything about it . . . It's not fair that . . ." - how easily we fall into it.
Such thinking can make us angry at other people, at God, at ourselves. We have an idea of fairness and when someone or something or some situation violates that idea, we cry "that's not fair!"
Sometimes we are right: it's not fair that people starve in many places on our globe - ah, but God has done something about it. He has given the world into our stewardship, to be cared for and used with respect for God, for creation, for other people. He has given us his word in the Person of his Son, to teach us the Gospel, to teach us to love.
The problem is when we say "that's not fair" about such a problem in the world but don't recognize our own responsibility to be persons who work to make it right - to make things fair. What we're really talking about is justice.
It is indeed not just that the world's resources are held and distributed in such a way that millions - including children - do not have adequate food, do not have healthcare, do not have clean water to drink, do not have access to education, do not have the help they need to live, do not have adequate housing.
We who are followers of Jesus should recognize it is not too late for us to really accept the Gospel and be of service to those who are most in need. The story he tells of the two sons - one who says "yes" to his father but fails to act on it, and the other who says "no" but changes his mind later and obeys his father - this should be our story, perhaps.
Have we failed to serve those in need? If so, we have said "no" to Jesus, who calls us to love one another. But it's not too late to change our minds, decide to be people for Christ, and for those whom he loves. If we have said "yes" to Jesus, maybe we need a checkup to see that our words and our actions match up.
In either case, it's our responsibility as Christians to promote justice and peace, not by saying "no" or "that's not fair" like a child, but by saying "yes" to God, and "I come to do your will."
Fr. John G. Stillmank is Moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Madison and pastor of St. Andrew Parish, Verona, and St. William Parish, Paoli.