Matthew 20: 1 – 16 Jesus’ Parable of the Vineyard
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius (typical day’s wage for labor) for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour (9am) and saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. 5 Again he went out about the sixth (12pm) and the ninth hour (3pm), and did the same thing. 6 And about the eleventh hour (5pm) he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ 9 When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. 10 When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ 13 But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last.”
This parable is used for a variety lessons, a primary one being a lesson on how people who are converted late in life still receive the full mercy of Christ just like those who have been with Christ all along. Or, how the Jews shouldn’t be resentful of the later comers to Christ (Gentiles). These verses are even used to defend a “living wage”. However, none of those are what I want to talk about here. A) Because most easily understand the first two uses and B) because I don’t think this gives a defense to a “living wage” which is a public policy issue, not a voluntary issue as in this parable.
On Comparable Wealth
First, what I would like to talk about is a mindset that Jesus talks about in this parable. This mindset is also discussed in these two articles about a modern study of wealth. Time: Money Isn’t Everything, but Wealth Is, and Why People Believe Weird things about Money. The study discussed in these two articles is exactly the human nature depicted in the above Parable. The 6am workers received exactly what they agreed upon, which was the standard full days wage for basic labor. It is enough to care for their family plus maybe a little extra. The 5pm workers receive the same pay for 1/12th the amount of work. Initially the workers hope for an increase in pay, but in the interchange between the workers and the landowner it is clear that they would have also preferred to receive a denarius and the other workers received less. Think about that, they would have preferred no change to their own circumstances, and a worse situation for the other workers. Which is exactly the issue the above articles discuss. It seems to be in our basic nature to compare our wealth to others and judge our wealth based on others. That is a mindset we must truly break if we are to be healthy and wealthy in this life.
Why? Because there will always, always be someone vastly richer than us. Another study (which I am unable to find, but may have been discussed in Superclass by David Rothkopf)) discusses how the richest 1% of people in the world feel the sense of comparable wealth much stronger then the average American They feel the difference because the difference in wealth between someone in the middle of the 1% (say a multimillionaire) when compared to someone in the upper echelons of the 1% (a multi-billionaire) is huge; a 100 fold increase. That is like the average American comparing his wage of 46k salary to the 460k salary of the upper management of his company, if they even make that much. Looking on Salary.com the average director does not make that much, even the average Chief Financial Officer makes between 250k and 430k, close but no cigar.
If we want to be wealthy in this world AND maintain a healthy outlook on life we need to realize our wealth and not compare it to those who make more than us. To compare it to our needs and wants, as that is what that wealth is basically for. I fail at this all the time. I have at least one good personal example that I can think of, but it is too recent to divulge. Let me repeat, the above parable is a good lesson for me as well. I instantly felt dissatisfied just like the the day laborers and like them I too had received exactly what was agreed upon. Like the lesson Christ was attempting to teach us 2+ thousand years ago, I too should feel good for the generosity of the company to the new hire and for them abiding by the contract I agreed to. It is not healthy for my eye to be envious because of the companies generosity.
On Abiding by Contract
Speaking of Abiding by contracts, this parable also gives a good lesson here. More on that in a future post/edit.