“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? . . . Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be angry because I am kind?’ ” - Matthew 20:13, 15
Discrimination, differentials, and arbitration are hot topics in today’s labor market. We don’t have to look far for the reasons! People have a tendency to be selfish, greedy, lazy, dishonest, and a host of other things that make life in the workplace a challenge. So over the years a vast body of legislation has been put in place in an effort to deal with these issues. How successfully it does so is a matter for debate.
Given all these concerns, Jesus’ story about working conditions in his day sounds strangely out of date and totally out of touch with modern workplace realities. But what he had to say is relevant nevertheless.
Jesus told the story of a vineyard owner who hired laborers in the morning at the going rate, then hired others later in the day at nine o’clock, noon, three o’clock, and five o’clock, and promised to pay them at a rate that would be fair. At the end of the day, as the law of the land required, he gathered the men together to pay them. The five o’clock crew were paid first and were given a full day’s pay, so the others assumed they would get a bonus. But none was forthcoming, and they objected. The owner challenged his disgruntled workers to explain why they should be angry simply because he was being kind (20:13). He said that he had paid what he promised to pay, and if he wanted to be gracious to someone it was his prerogative, as he was spending his own money (20:15).
Therein lies the point of the story: God deals with everybody on the basis of his justice, and as he chooses he adds extra doses of kindness that are totally undeserved. Who can quarrel with that? We can be very thankful that God does not “pay” us what we deserve—that he gives us freely the gift of eternal life (see Rom. 6:23).
A man who sees his work experience as part of his discipleship will acknowledge the validity of the old adage, “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” This adage applies to both employers and employees. Employers should make sure they pay their employees fairly for the work they have done, and employees should make sure they do fairly the work for which they are paid! Then justice will be done.
In the workplace, justice must be done. But grace in the workplace should never be far from the believer’s mind, and kindness at work will never be out of place.
For Further Study: Matthew 20:1-16