We hear children —and adults — argue, “It’s not fair!” Sometimes we are not treated fairly. But, as Matthew 20:1–16 tells you, don’t address those words to God!
Beware of self-righteousness. This is a parable of the kingdom. A parable, you remember, is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus specifies what the parable is about. His language reflects imagery that the Holy Spirit had used in the prophets, such as Isaiah 5. The central point of the parable is not economics. The parable has been used as a justification for socialism—everyone ought to receive equal pay. But that is not the point of the story Jesus told. Others have argued exactly the opposite point from the parable: the householder asks, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?” A contract freely entered into, such as between the owner and the first workers, is binding. While that may be true, it also misses the mark. It’s not the reason Jesus told this parable. The actions of the owner tell you about God’s dealings in the kingdom of heaven. The parable is introduced specifically with: “the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner….” As in many of the parables of the kingdom the activity of a central figure tells you something about how God works in his kingdom. The owner reaches an agreement with the initial group of laborers to work in his vineyard for the standard wage of a denarius for a day’s work. At three hour intervals he hires additional workers, who are willing to trust his “I will pay you whatever is right.” Finally he hires some more men at the 11th hour. Perhaps it was harvest time, and the grapes had to be picked right then. At the end of the day, to their surprise the men who worked only one hour received a full denarius, as did each of the other laborers.Continue reading “But It’s Not Fair!”