Fair Wages and “Equal” Pay? What Would Jesus Do?

Fair Wages and “Equal” Pay? What Would Jesus Do? June 26, 2018

Not All Are Equal

Just for kicks, let’s explore how the Son of God handles wages and employment. First, my thesis statement: No Jesus is not a proponent of “share the wealth” or “equal pay for equal work” or any other progressive equality-of-outcome ideal.  In His own words He often described the Kingdom of Heaven using a parable with vastly different outcomes for individuals in the story. Let’s break one of these parables down. 

Matthew 20 

Is financial equality attainable?

Matthew 20 begins with a parable, and for 16 verses Jesus is describing what “the kingdom of heaven is like…”(Matt 20:1)  It is like a master of a house (clearly God over Heaven), who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  Laborers into the vineyard is a common theme used by Jesus and it references the Saints (Christians) seeking to “harvest” God’s field, or create more Christians. 

After the master agrees with the workers he finds to work for X wages; (some translations say a denarius, some say a penny, some day “a day’s wages” or one silver, the point being it is a standard amount that you would pay a day laborer), the master sent the workers into his vineyard. 

So far, so Good right, the master is agreeing to pay these initial workers “a day’s wages” for a day’s worth of work. It’s all very fair and equitable, right?  Let’s keep reading: 

In verse 3 Jesus continues by saying later that morning the master went out and saw other laborers hanging around with nothing to do and said hey… go work in my field and I’ll pay you as well at the end of the day. So off the workers went into the field, starting some hours after the first group. 

In verse 5 he hires more people and in verse six and seven in the late afternoon he goes out and hires even more people to work his vineyard. 

A Kick in the Teeth? 

In verse 8 it is evening time and the master tells the foreman of his house to go out and pay all the day laborers, beginning with the ones he hired last! 

Wait, what? 

The phrase “the last will be first” is another common expression that Jesus used. (see; Luke 13:30, Matthew 19:30, Matthew 10:31). It is very much in keeping with Jesus demanding a servant attitude of all who would follow Him. When asked by his disciples in Matthew 18, who would be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven, He basically told them whomever does the most service to others. The lowliest, the one who puts others before himself, who gives the most of what they have (privately, not boastfully), will be exalted by God in Heaven and have the greatest rewards. Those who you see on Earth “serving” selfishly, in front of the cameras, or hardly at all (relative to what they have), will be the least in God’s kingdom.  So back to our parable… 

The master tells his steward to go out and pay all of the day laborers beginning with the last ones hired near the end of the day.  The workers who came in towards the end of the day got…a day’s wages. In verse 10, it says that those who got hired first in the day came to get paid and expected more money than those who came to work late in the day. They received, however, a single day’s wages. Exactly what they bargained for. 

Equal pay for unequal work. 

Is God Unfair? 

By today’s western mindset of a predetermined hourly rate and minimum wage, this seems incredibly unfair. If we say “a day’s wages” is equal to $100 U.S. then those who came at 5:00 in the evening and worked until 6:00 got $100/hr, while those who started at 6:00 in the morning only got paid about $8.33/hr. What gives? 

Exactly what the workers in the parable were thinking. Verse 11 shows us that these workers were grumbling against the master of the house and they made their case to him, complaining that the people who only worked one hour got paid the same as they who worked all day. 

God’s response to them is key!  Verse 13-15: “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for X? Take what you agreed to work for and beat it. It is my money, and I have a right to give it away as I please.” 

Translation: You were happy this morning to go to work for me and get paid X. Now you are dissatisfied with that arrangement why? Because you have your nose in other peoples’ business and your greedy heart has made you dissatisfied with the pay that once pleased you. 

Translation 2.0: You look up to those wealthier than you and envy what they have rather than being satisfied with what you’ve been given. If you kept your eyes on your own circumstances, and counted your own blessings or better yet, looked ‘down’ to help those who have so much less than you, your spirit would not be troubled. 

What your coworkers are getting paid is really none of your business. You negotiated X pay for your job so you must feel it is worth it – for you. If you are dissatisfied, ask for a raise, or quit. Your boss negotiating different rates with different people does not make her unfair. It’s her money to give to whomever she pleases, and not at your discretion. 

The Bigger Picture 

Socialism is – at its root – class envy. It is looking at what “the rich” have and demanding society adjust either to bring them down, or attempt to lift others up to that level. In this, and other examples I will explore in this blog, God shows the character He desires of His followers: keep your eyes lowered so you can lift up the poor. He will exalt you for doing so and – if you must look ‘up’ at the wealthy – the commandment “thou shall not covet” comes into play.

You were not put on this Earth to want what others have, judge whether they have “too much,” or attempt to redistribute their wealth by your definition of “fairness.” 

In short: mind your own business. Content yourself with counting your own blessings. I…God…we promise you will be happier for it. Don’t get bored with counting the same blessings again and again. His blessings are new each morning (Lam. 3:23) and you can lose any of them in an instant. 

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