“The Parable of the Good Employer,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
December 31, 2018
All of us, if we have a job, want to be paid for our work and perhaps be recognized for our good work. In the same way, the student wants to be rewarded by his teacher for his good work in what is assigned for him to learn. The student, in the same fashion as the employee, may have the wish to be singled out for his good work and perhaps both the student and the employee may wish to be praised. These are normal human desires and responses.
Jesus, however, in the Parable entitled, “The Parable of the Good Employer,” presents a different perspective and points us to a different direction in our thinking.
This Parable is found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 20, verses 1-16. In this Parable, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who goes out early in the morning to hire laborers for this vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers on a denarius a day, he sends them into his vineyard. Going about the third hour, he sees others standing idle in the marketplace and says, “You go into the vineyard, too, and whatever is right I will give you.” The employer continues to do this hiring, and at the eleventh hour, he finds others standing and asks them “Why do you stand here idle all day?” and they say to him, “No one has hired us.” He says to them, “You go into the vineyard, too.”
Jesus says that when the evening comes, the owner of the vineyard says to his steward, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages beginning with the last and up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour come, each receives a denarius. And when the first come, they think they will receive more but also receive a denarius. On receiving the same payment they grumble at the householder, saying, “These last worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The householder replies, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?” The householder is related to say, “Take what belongs to you. I choose to give to this last as I gave to you.” The householder says, “I am allowed to do with what belongs to me and ask do you begrudge my generosity.” Jesus concludes with the statement, “The last shall be first and the first last.”
This parable is lengthy and somewhat involved. The parable has to do with generosity. The people hired at the early hour complain to the householder that they had to work twelve hours in the heat while the others worked one hour in the cool of the evening and received the same pay. The earlier hired employees felt that for the difficulty of their work, the length of time involved, and the difficult condition in the heat they means they should have been paid more. Here Christ and God show compassion and goodness. Jesus, like the employer, gives to all. Even sinners get a share in eternal life in heaven with him. Jesus says that the he will choose to include the last in the world as well as the first. He says here that his generosity, love, and compassion cannot be predicted or measured out; only to those who believe they are deserving of it for their righteousness and not to the others who seem to be undeserving of God’s love and goodness.
It is significant that the householder continues to hire laborers all day in the same way that God offers his love and compassion in the end of time to everyone. God’s love, compassion, and forgiveness are not based on what we have done for one hour but on his grace, love, and mercy.
Jesus ended with a sentence that it is not the standard of the world that governs his actions but in fact the undesirable he was accused consorting with: he says that publicans, sinners, and tax collectors will be “first” and those who think solely of their entitlement and self-importance in the world system will be last. Jesus says here to all of his that his grace, love, compassion and forgiveness are infinitely available and are not solely and merely offered to those who may have worked for it, but are given to the least and apparently undeserving.
In fact, in these actions of Christ and God, Jesus says the undesirable and outcasts whom he was criticized for socializing with will been seen as first and the power mongers and self-important will be last. Jesus seems to say here that his measure of human persons and his grace cannot be predicted or understood. He says and concludes that his mercy and love are so great that not only will he offer it to the apparently least-deserving, but there will be a judgment that those undeserving will be first.
One final statement and conclusion: Jesus wants all to be rescued, all to be saved, and all to be with him in heaven. It seems unjust and unfair that the one whose life may have been evil and have led a life encased and embedded in evil, if he repents at the last second of his life will be received and be taken into the joy of Christ and Heaven. The righteous man whose life has been one of total goodness may cry “unfair,” but the wish and love of God to rescue all means that that person will be taken to the eternal joy of heaven. The issue and the understanding here is the infinite mercy and love that Christ bears for all of us know no limits.