“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.”Matthew 20:1
This is one of my favorite parables. It’s fun to preach on because you can relate to all the characters. There is the landowner who hires laborers to work in his vineyard and agrees to pay them the usual daily wage. It’s a very equitable arrangement and it’s pretty much what would have happened at the beginning of each new day.
This landowner is a little different though, because he continues to go back to the marketplace and hire other workers. In fact, he does this right up to the typical end of the workday. The parable doesn’t tell us what he is going to pay those he hired at noon and three o’clock and five o’clock, but we assume that he will pay them fairly as he has agreed to pay those he hired early in the morning.
As the day ends and the landowner begins to pay the workers. He pays those he hired last a full day’s wages. I bet those folks did not expect that. Can you hear the mumbling of the other workers in the line? If the landowner is paying those who only worked an hour or two a full days’ wage then those that worked a full day are probably expecting a nice bonus.
That’s not what happens. Everyone gets a days’ wage. Everyone. It doesn’t matter when they start their day. They get a days’ wage. THAT’S NOT FAIR, shout the union reps. THAT’S NOT FAIR, shout those who worked hard for ten full hours.
How many times have you felt like shouting THAT’S NOT FAIR? Many things happen in life that are not fair, equitable, or just, by our standards. These payments are not fair. There isn’t even a plausible argument that could make this payment system fair.
That’s the point. Equity is defined differently in the kingdom. Justice and fairness are more complex and multi-layered. “Are you envious because I am generous?” The landowner asks that question in verse 15. It is a question worth asking ourselves. What constitutes fairness or equity in kingdom living? Just because you didn’t get chosen with the early morning workers doesn’t mean you don’t need a days’ wage. The landowner paid the early workers exactly what he said he would pay them. Nobody got cheated.
What are we being invited to do during this season of Lent that would make our world more equitable in light of our call to build the kingdom? How might we rethink our understanding of fairness and equity in light of this parable? These questions do not have easy answers. We are invited to consider them, however, as we lean into the deeper spiritual truths of our faith.