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Friday, June 7, 2013

An Excuse to Pay Even More (or Much Less)

Matthew 20:1-16 (New International Version) 
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard 

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius [the usual daily wage of a day laborer] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 

About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 

He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 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?’ 

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. 

He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 

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.’ 

The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘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.’ 

But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

During evil days of the past, the Bible was quoted in defense of slavery. Now the Bible can be used to endorse all kinds of economic evil and injustice. Take for example the scripture quoted above. With sufficient avarice and greed, an unscrupulous businessman could justify paying unjust wages to his employees. “Don’t complain about poor wages,” he might say, “the Bible clearly states that I can be as arbitrary and capricious in how I compensate workers as I want to be." Of course, the point of the passage is just the opposite—the kingdom of heaven is unaccountably generous and merciful. In the kingdom of heaven the file clerk makes more than the CEO.

Sometimes a Christian witness can bring home the central message of the Gospel with great clarity. My friend Marvin Sweat is such a man. Marvin is unfailingly as kind and generous in spirit to any stranger he meets on the street as he is to me. Praise God!!!

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