Day 31 Devotional & Discussion – March 25, 2015

Matthew 20:1-16

What surprises you about the landowner’s employment practices? Why do you think he would hire people at 5:00 pm—an hour before quitting time? What seems to motivate the actions of the landowner in hiring AND in wages? Do you think the workers’ complaint about unfair treatment is valid?

This is a story about the kingdom of heaven. How is employment and wages in the kingdom different from employment and wages in our world? Who receives the greatest benefits from “kingdom labor practices?” Would you like to work in the kingdom of heaven? Why or why not?

For Pastor Ray’s perspective on this story as it relates to employment and wages, go HERE



  1. On the surface, I can imagine the people in Jesus’ day were scratching their heads over this one. I still do, to a certain extent. I feel the workers who worked all day have a just argument. I think it has to do somewhat with my personality. For example, McDonalds advertises, or at least they did at some point, that they would sell all sizes of their coffee for $1. To my way of thinking, that is ridiculous. If you are willing to let a large coffee go for $1, then you should sell a medium or small for less than that. But McDonalds’ leadership has the right to charge what they want. The boss in the story has the right to pay wages as he sees fit. I tend to think he is an inconsistent boss, but I recognize that he reserves the right to be that way. So what was Jesus’ point about the kingdom? I don’t think Jesus was trying to communicate about wages or labor. He is using a story about wages and labor to teach a principle about God’s Kingdom. It seems he is saying that God’s grace doesn’t work according to the principles of human fairness. Instead God’s grace is shockingly liberal. It’s not like the boss is breaking his contract with the workers. He is keeping his word. If I were the boss, I have to admit though, I hope I would feel honor-bound to go back to revise my wage scale based on the late-comers’ pay, and give all the previous workers that same wage, to make pay consistent across the board. But that is not consistent with the principle Jesus is trying to teach. God is liberally generous in his grace! And praise the Lord that he is so!

    But even if Jesus is not trying to teach about wages and labor, might the principle he is trying to teach apply to wages and labor? I think so. God’s heart is generous in grace. We can and should apply this to labor practices. But what if the world system, generally speaking, disagrees? Would they feel we are shoving religion down their throats if we pushed hard on this? They don’t often view things like Jesus does.

    1. I know people don’t have the time to link to my (long, windy) sermon about this parable, but let me summarize. I’ll be your “10th Man” on this. I think Jesus is reminding us that in an oppressive economic system where people are paid according to their skills, hours, etc, there are plenty of people who get left out and whose needs go unmet. One commentator I read reminded me that the only people who would have still be unemployed at the end of the day would have been the oldest, weakest, most disabled members of the community. They would have been passed over again and again. (Kind of like a 62 year old in today’s labor market.) This landowner is not willing that any should be overlooked. In the kingdom “system”, everyone gets a living wage–even those who are most disadvantaged, least able, least skilled, most vulnerable. The complainers are the ones who live by an “economy of fair” rather than the “economy of need.” A part time worker still has full time expenses. A person with a disability still has the same need for food and shelter as an able bodied person. In the kingdom, (just like in the story of the manna) God gives (graces) everyone with enough so that no one goes hungry–everyone is blessed. This is a challenge to the market economy for sure–and to our ingrained sense of “fair wages” (i.e. full day’s work for full day’s pay). However, with more and more jobs being eliminated (by robotics), outsourced, reduced to “temporary” or “part time” hours and deemed “low skill, low wage” work, we’ve got to move beyond the current model–the economy of fair–and articulate a new vision–the economy of need. I believe followers of Jesus must lead the conversation. Joel, I wish you could join us on Saturday for our Worker Justice Symposium. It’s going to be mind-blowing!

      1. I read your entire (long, windy) sermon, Bruce. Very good and thought-provoking. And also, very un-capitalistic. If we were to live in a God’s re-ordering of life in this fallen world, we would have to be ever-vigilant due to the selfish nature of us all. The idea of the minimum income instead of minimum wage is appealing for those of us who are in the low income bracket and those of us who are sensitized to the wage inequality. But to the higher income population in the US, this is just ridiculous, foolhardy, and downright wrong for penalizing their hard work. So I don’t know how to bridge the chasm.

      2. I hear you, Bruce, as I mentioned in an earlier post about pastoral pay. If only people valued us as they do veterinarians! But what I wrestle with is how to actually attempt this. Should we pick and scrape at a little legislation here and little there? It seems our nation is so badly broken that perhaps we who think this way would be better off voluntarily starting a communal system on the small scale. I have heard of others who have attempted this. I wonder if there are any good examples that have faired well? I seem to remember reading that Shane Claiborne and his Simple Way group have attempted this.

      3. I think there are legislative things we can promote–like expanding the earned income tax credit for families. This was (believe it or not) a Republican piece of legislation that attempted to redistribute income and bridge the income inequality gap. We also need a fairer tax structure–even advocated by Warren Buffet. But I believe you are right, Joel, that we need to practice a more communal model within the church. Last Sunday, I preached about the offering Paul received for the poor in Jerusalem. A “shared economy” that focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable moves us closer to the “economy of need” and away from the “economy of fair”. I believe the church must show the way. That said, I’m afraid most churches have drunk the kool-aid and would rather quote, “If a person doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat” to maintain the status quo of free market economics and to justify being tight-fisted toward those we deem “the undeserving poor” like the homeless or the chronically unemployed.

  2. Joy, I believe this is the point Jesus is trying to make. We say, “Don’t give people an income if they haven’t worked! They don’t deserve it!” We say, “The more responsibility you have, the more you should make.” That’s because we “value” skill, education, productivity, ability. We don’t value “work”–or at least not all work. I find it fascinating that we place value on Mitt Romney’s “work” as a venture capitalist even though he produces absolutely nothing tangible. And we place value on the Kardashian’s “work” even though they do absolutely nothing except cash in on their celebrity status. Yet, migrant farm workers that put food on our table through their work and custodians who clean up our messes and childcare workers who lay a foundation for our children’s future get the crumbs from the table. Their work is not highly valued and their needs are not even on our radar, yet without them, we would starve and live in filth.

    God bridged the chasm in the Law through the mechanism of the year of Jubilee. We need something similar.

  3. I just got an email about a job fair that is coming to Chicago. In the fine print of “how to come prepared”, there was this suggestion: “Prepare your 30-60 second “Value Statement.” Offer everyone you meet a clear snapshot of who you are and what you have to offer a company as an employee. What were your past positions? How did you benefit your previous employers? What would you like to do in the future? Remember, the best way to be considered for a position is to meet the hiring managers in person. Come prepared to stand out from the crowd.”

    All I could envision was the men in Jesus’ parable waiting in the marketplace hoping for the opportunity to work. The Landowner enters. All the workers line up, ready with the 30-60 second “Value Statement.” Only the most qualified–who stand out from the crowd–are hired. The rest, like the man at Bethesda, are out of luck. Except…THIS landowner returns again and again. And when he finds out that nobody has hired them, he blesses them with a job–and an livable income–right down to the unemployable. Ain’t the kingdom of heaven awesome! Come, Lord Jesus!

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