A Parable of Grace…and Capitalism

by Tim on December 31, 2010

All the workers were paid one denarius

I’ll admit, when I read the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20, my first thought was “Wow, what a great example of capitalism.” I quickly snapped out of my economic daze and realized what the real lesson of the parable was all about. The story is one on God’s grace and not about financial rewards, but we can still apply a few economic principles to this parable quite nicely, which is why I didn’t completely disregard my economic muse. 🙂

The Vineyard Workers – A brief summary

Jesus had just finished speaking with a rich young man about selling all his possessions, giving his money to the poor, and following Him. The disciples were probably speechless while Jesus finished his ‘lesson in finance’ when they switched gears to economics. (Bear with me here)

The parable of the vineyard workers is a brief story of a landowner who needed work for his vineyard and hired some men willing to work for a denarius (about a full day’s wage). He then went out a second time later that morning and hired some more. Again at noon and three, he went and hired a few more workers. Once again, the landowner hired more help around five and everyone worked until evening.

At the end of the day the landowner paid each worker according to what his arrangements were. In this case, everyone was paid a denarius, including the men who started later that day. The men who started early in the morning were angry with him and said he was unfair. To that, the landowner said “Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?

An Economic Look

Yes, I know this parable isn’t about economics, but the principle of wages is so plain in this story, I have to bring it up. The fact is that a fair day’s wage is whatever the worker and the employer agree to. That’s the basis of the free market and is what makes competition tick. The rate I pay someone else should not concern you if you’ve agreed to work for the fair wage we established.

By no means do I support exploiting workers by paying them an unfair wage. If both parties agree to a fair but different wage, the transaction should take place. If you are unhappy about it afterward, don’t work for them again. That’s the beauty of a free market and freedom of choice.

Jesus used financial and economic stories to relate to the people in a way they could understand. I’m fascinated with the integration of Biblical truths and economic principles, because when we approach the latter with the former, our view on business makes a shift for the better.

The Real Meaning – God’s Grace

Don’t let my economic rant keep you from seeing the real meaning behind the parable of the vineyard workers – God’s grace which gives salvation. This story is an illustration of those who come to God in the last moments. God’s grace reaches all who ask, no matter if they’re 8 or 88. Jesus was speaking to those who felt superior over others who didn’t spend as much time with Him as they did. Salvation through grace isn’t earned through our hard work; God gives it generously.

The truth is, no one deserves God’s grace — and feeling resentful towards those he saves or blesses is an attitude that Jesus warns us to run from. The parable is simply a lesson to teach us not to be jealous of the blessings others receive, but to be thankful for what we’ve been given.

How do you handle jealousy when it creeps into situations in your life?

Tim is a personal finance writer at Faith and Finance a Christian financial help blog that provides financial insights for individuals, businesses, and churches. Outside of finance, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife, playing the saxophone, reading economics books, and a good game of RISK or Catan. Find him on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to the Faith and Finance RSS feed.


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Everyday Tips December 31, 2010 at 11:31 am

It is funny- where I worked before, bonuses and raises were forbidden to be discussed, I think you could even be fired for it. Mainly, because the company did not want Sue to come in screaming because Fran got a raise and she didn’t.

I think jealousy is part of human nature, and in the case I mentioned above, it isn’t really jealousy as much as wanting life to be fair. In the biblical example, what if the guy that started at 5 had spent the day swimming and eating giant meals and he got paid the same amount of money? It would seem unfair and very frustrating. If he was out helping the poor, then it seems like the right thing to do. It all depends on the situation.

The lesson is simple though, you made an agreement, now live with it. Too bad people that strategically default on their mortgage loans don’t live by the same creed.


Funny about Money December 31, 2010 at 8:47 pm

But…don’t you think this issue has more to do with simple fairness than with jealousy?

How is it “jealousy” when, say, all the women in a company realize that they’re being paid less for the same quality, kind, and amount of work than men in the same job classification?

No offense, but I think what wages are being paid to whom for what very much is each employee’s business. When “whatever the worker and the employer agree to” happens to be unfair, that’s definitely a matter that needs to be discussed — preferably in the open.


Tim January 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

@ Everyday Tips – Great point! I think sometimes people forget that they AGREED to certain terms – work, pay, purchases. We have to live with the choices we make and not expect a handout.

@ Funny about Money – You make a fair point. You’re bringing up discrimination, which I do not support.

As for a situation without any gender, race, or age discrimination, I’d say the workers should be paid close to the industry standard (which they can find out pretty easily). What if a co-worker is a higher producer than you or me? Shouldn’t they get more pay? Would that be unfair? I don’t think so, and though I think it’s an issue to be discussed in private, I wouldn’t be afraid to tell the other workers.

Thank you both for the comment!


Invest It Wisely January 3, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Interesting post, Tim! If the workers feel like they’re treated unfairly, then there are a myriad of solutions that can be explored. These feelings of unfairness keep us from getting exploited, but we must learn what the appropriate response is in order to live harmoniously with others. I agree that the free market and voluntary choice can lead to better results, more prosperity, and more happiness. Good rules which encourage good moral behavior and respect for the law is the best way to reach good outcomes for everyone.

As far as discrimination goes, I do not support it personally, but I don’t agree with reverse discrimination in order to correct wrongs done in the past. Doing new wrongs doesn’t address the old ones — it only creates new victims. The proper response is to ostracize those making poor decisions so that they lose reputation and money. Promoting a less discriminatory society through awareness and understanding also helps.


Tim January 4, 2011 at 6:50 am

Thanks Kevin –

You’re right; in order to live freely and make free choices, there needs to be structure in the form of law to help settle illegal disputes. (Just how far the law goes…that’s to be debated – but a judicial arm is certainly needed)

I also agree with you regarding reverse discrimination. It isn’t right and those who practice it should be reprimanded for it.


David Cowan January 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

Great post. The parable is an economic parable. Jesus tells us a lot about our economic life today. You may be interested in “Economic Parables: The Monetary Teachings of Jesus Christ” (Paternoster USA) by David Cowan. There is a free excerpt on the website http://www.economicparables.com


Tim @ Faith and Finance January 10, 2011 at 10:29 am

Thanks David – I’ll have to check it out for sure!


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