How would you feel if you found out someone else was getting paid more than you for doing that same job? Understandably pretty miffed I expect. It’s not hard therefore to relate to the consternation of the workers in Jesus’ parable when they found out that workers who worked less hard for less time got paid the same as them.
But what is Jesus saying here?
Grace : The payment does not need to be linked to the amount of work. The extreme case of this would be where we get something we have not earned. That is called grace. And in fact does not the employer in the parable answer his critics by saying “its my money to do with what I want. What is it to you if I give more to one person than another”. So this parable is about grace.
Anger : When someone else gets more than us we can get angry. It’s just not fair. We seem to be born with a very sensitive fairness detector. Children are outraged if a chocolate cake is sliced in such a way that someone else gets a molecule more than them. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It is wrong to pay one sex more than another simply because of their gender. It is wrong to take advantage of a workforce simply because they are vulnerable and have no alternative other than working for meagre wages. We should be highly alert to these things for the sake of justice. But that is not what is going on in Jesus parable. The wages are not based on anything about the workers. The reason for the differing amounts is in the hidden purposes of the giver who is not constrained to give based on anything outside of himself. For grace to be grace the giver must be free to give or not give as he wishes. The moment there is outside constraint, grace becomes wages. (Romans 9:21-24)
One final point: We are not the ones who have toiled away all day to earn God’s love! Jesus did the work in the heat of the day. We, who were called at the last minute, get the wages and the inheritance he earned. Our wages would have been death (Romans 6:23). When we start to think of ourselves as having “earned God’s grace” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) we will get angry when others are shown grace. Jealousy is a dangerous emotion. A big warning flash light on the dash board of our heart signalling a potentially deadly grace deficit.
Image from Wiki FotoosVanRobin