Just Wages and the Kingdom of God

There is a parable in the Bible that describes Heaven as “landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard”.    In the morning he found laborers in need of work, and he agreed to pay one denarius (the ancient currency, let’s say one dollar) for a day’s work…

Just Wages and the Kingdom of God

There is a parable in the Bible that describes Heaven as “landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard”.    In the morning he found laborers in need of work, and he agreed to pay one denarius (the ancient currency, let’s say one dollar) for a day’s work.   Later, he found other people loafing around, and hired them while promising just wages.  And later still, he hired and promised just wages to more unemployed.

 At the end of the day, he asked his foreman to “[c]all the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first”.   To each he paid one denarius.   Naturally the workers complained about the inequality of salaries.   The first batch complained that they worked longer and toiled harder than the last who started working towards the end of the day.   To this the landowner said, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”   He gave them what was their due, one denarius, and he paid with one denarius.   The parable ends with the statement, “the last will be first, and the first will be last”.

Seen from the idea of social justice, the parable seems broken, or questionable.   Generally, workers are paid per hour or time laboured, or for every product made.   It is clear that the first batch of laborers, by proportion had a right to higher and more just wages.   If they were part of a union, they would immediately strike and demand due compensation for their work.  The management (that is, the landowner) would justify that all they offered was one denarius, nothing more, nothing less. The contract is clear, and without malicious intent the management fulfilled their obligation.   The contract may be argued changed, however, in light of the extenuating circumstances.  A contract is entered to the benefit of both parties; when one party is disenfranchised, he has the right to seek redress.  Every citizen has a right to equality, and that means proportionate due.

The proper analogy, though, is that Heaven shall offer salvation to all men, regardless of how late or how early they toiled for the Lord’s sake.  Everyone is equal, and everyone is equally saved if they seek to labor in God’s name.

However, we could still appropriately compare social justice with that of the allocation of salvation.   For the first batch of converts, or faithful who toiled and suffered in God’s name for the entirety of their lives, would earn the same love and salvation to those who came late to religion.  For what was their lifetime labor for?   If they shall receive salvation anyway, whether they come late or early, were it not better to come late, that the labours would be lighter?   This is similar in vein to the Donatist theory, which argued that lapsed Christians, who forsook God in fear of persecution, no longer deserved to return to God’s embrace.

Nevertheless, we must read on to fully appreciate the parable.   God is being generous.  The first converts have already achieved their reward, and there is no greater reward than salvation.   Who are they to hold back salvation to those who seek it, however late in life?  Is it not better to learn that the sinful have been saved at so late an hour?

 Therefore, one cannot argue for further just wages.   The most just wage is salvation, and there is no greater.  Those who lived their lives in goodness cannot complain, for they have achieved this.   They are equal to those who came late because God stretches His hand out to all: the sinful, and the devout.

You may also read:
God Is an Embarrassment in Our Lives

Sainthood and the Moral Horizon
Why does Evil Happen to the Just