Are we being taught economic theory in this? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
Sometimes, people present the parable of the workers in the field in Matthew 20 as if Jesus is espousing socialism. After all, everyone gets paid the same. Right? There’s no differentiation in wages. I was reading that recently and started looking at it and yes, I have heard other people bring out these arguments, but I figured I needed to as well.
First, let’s look at the parable.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 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?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “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.’
9 “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. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘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.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
At the start, for one thing, this parable is not meant to teach business practices or economics. Seriously, if any business worker did this, he would find himself out of business quickly. After all, if I knew this guy did this, I would wait until the last hour to get hired, put in an hour’s work, get a day’s pay, and I would have spent the day prior and after just doing what I want. Word would get out.
However, that being said, the parable doesn’t even have a socialist background in any way. We can say the workers all got paid the same. No one was greater and no one was lesser in pay. Right. But why? The owner tells us.
“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?”
So in this, the owner owns the money himself. If he wants to pay the last workers that much, he can do that. Not only that, if anything, the ones who worked all day sound like the socialists in the parable with them saying, “We worked harder. We are owed more money.”
I don’t support minimum wage laws. No one is owed a job by anyone. What you are owed is what you agree to work for, in this case, a denarius. The people in this story think they are owed more than they agreed to. They think they have the right to tell the landowner what to do with his money.
They don’t. He tells them it is his money. He can spend it how he sees fit. If he wants to give to the last workers a denarius, he can do that because it is his money. Now if he did pay the workers who worked all day less than a denarius, they could have gone to the courts with him breaking a contract, but he didn’t. There was no basis for such a charge.
Ultimately, the point of the parable is not to teach economics. It’s to teach about grace in the Kingdom of God. Still, from an economic perspective, this is not a socialist story. It is a capitalist one.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)