Workers For Hire

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Today it seems it’s all about pay rate, schedule, time off, vacation, benefits… you name it. You can’t read the news without an article regarding increasing the minimum wage across the board for everyone. Well, I’m going to go there but it certainly entered my mind the other morning as I was working on an article for a Christian publishing company on “serving.” In particular I was revisiting the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16.

The householder went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard and the ones that showed up he agreed to pay one penny (a denarius), which is roughly worth $72 today for 10 hours work. At that time it represented enough money for a worker to feed himself on wheat or himself and two family members on barley. And then he went out again around 9 o’clock and told a group of workers to go out to his vineyard and he would pay them “whatsoever is right.” He still needed workers and he went to the marketplace again at 12 o’clock and 3 o’clock in the afternoon and those he hired the same thing. Finally, at 5 o’clock he went to a group and asked them why they were standing around all day. They told him that no one would hire them so he sent them to join the others and “whatsoever is right” you will receive.

At the end of the day he called them all in to be paid and from the first to the last he paid them all the same… one penny. Those who worked all day thought they should get more and began to murmur against him…

Matt 20: 12 Saying, these last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 

He responded…

Matt 20: 13-16 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Now, I have to be honest here. I have always thought that it was his right to hold the first workers to their agreement to work all day for a penny, and equally the others what he agreed to… whatsoever is right you will receive. But was it fair to pay them for a full day? The world would say no, but Jesus was saying something else.

For those who came later (at 9, 12, 3 and 5) there was no stipulation of a penny a day, just a promise to be paid whatever is right. So, they went to work just trusting the householder to treat them fairly. And it is verse 7 that caught my attention. In the KJV he discusses their wages but in the NIV that part is omitted. It is the position held by many commentators that the NIV is correct; he simply sent them out to work without any promise or agreement whatever. Either they went out not knowing or went out trusting him to be fair. In the end the result was the same… they all got paid a penny. However, for the last to be hired it represented roughly 12 times more than the first.

Here’s the difference. The later laborers worked in simple faith while the others had worked under a contract. The message that Jesus was delivering was all about how we go about serving Him. The first worked under the law as required and the others just gave their lives to Him in simple faith and trusted Him for everything. And at the end of the day the reward for those working in faith was the largest of all. The bottom line… it’s possible for us to be working for a reward rather than serving Jesus out of love. I think that is what Jesus had in mind with this parable as just a few chapters later He revisited it with more clarity…

Matt 25:35-39 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 

The very fact that they did not realize that they were doing it was in fact Jesus highest praise and reward…

 Matt 25:40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ 

Reading this parable again has challenged me to consider not only “why” I am serving Jesus, but “how” am I serving Him. And serving Him out of my love for Him puts the focus where it should be… on the why and not the how. And the reward goes well beyond anything we may receive down here…

Matt 25:23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 

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