The Bible makes it very clear that employers are supposed to treat workers justly and pay them a fair wage when it is due to them. Most of the Scriptures on the subject of workers are in agreement with our current employment practices and law. However, the Parable of th Workers in the Vineyard doesn’t seem to fit with our ideas of fairness.The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20: 1 – 16) For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[ for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The discussion questions asked how would you feel if you were one of the first workers to be hired? I think most of us would be as upset as the workers in this story were. Imagine toiling for 8 – 10 hours in the hot sun, only to receive the same pay as those who worked for only one hour. Yet, those first workers hired got exactly what they were promised–a fair day’s wage.
If you were the last worker hired, you attitude would be one of extreme gratitude. All day long those workers had waited for someone to offer them employment. Each time an employer showed up, I am sure they prayed to be chosen. The last workers need employment just as badly as the first workers hired. They had families that needed food and provision. When the employer finally called them over and offered them work, I am sure they were grateful for the opportunity but were expecting only an hour’s pay. How their hearts must have swelled with thankfulness when a full day’s wages was paid to them.
I believe that Jesus described an employer who looked at each worker with compassion and saw the desire of their hearts to provide for their families. His distribution of pay was not intended to hurt those who worked all day but to help those who hadn’t been provided the same opportunity. Today our employment laws prevent employers from treating workers differently. However, the law doesn’t prevent employers from being generous with employees who need assistance.
One of the ways an employer can honor God with her money is to ask God to show her which employees are hurting financially and to look for ways to bless those individuals. An employer might provide an employee with an opportunity to work overtime and earn extra money. She might provide additional training and money for college classes to help an employee to advance into a higher paying job. If the employee’s need is urgent, God might instruct the employer to personally provide the funds to meet the need or to direct the employee to churches and agencies which provide assistance.
An employer who seeks to honor God with his money will find many opportunities to bless his workers and help improve their lives. God, in turn, will bless that employer and allow him to create more jobs to provide more people with employment.