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.

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