Insight of the Week

The Concept of Fairness

“When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’” (Matt. 20:11-12)

Whenever one of my children says “That’s not fair,” I tend to agree. “You’re right,” I’ll respond, “it’s not fair. But life rarely is!” As we’ve discussed in class before, if life were fair – if we all truly received that which we deserve – we would be in a heap of trouble.

While explaining the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus offered a parable about some people who worded in a vineyard (Matt. 20:1-16). It starts out innocently enough. A landowner hires day laborers and agrees to pay them each a denarius (usual daily wages for this work). So if you’re one of these workers, you go out into the vineyard, earn your money, and think nothing more of it. Throughout the day you can’t help but notice some other men have joined to complete this project. Great! More hands on deck is beneficial to everyone!

Now it’s time to clock out and collect your reward. It was a hot day and you’re tired. You look around and see that there are a few folks who clearly did not sweat and struggle as much as you did. You think to yourself, “My hard work will net me more pay than those latecomers!” But then the boss pays you exactly what he paid them! “What? That’s not fair! We worked about ten times as much as they did! Surely this has to be a mistake.”

Only it’s not a mistake. Yes, the morning crew worked longer hours (and were likely more productive) than those who started later. But they weren’t – at least according to the landowner – more valuable. It’s as if he was saying, “The man accomplished just as much in a few hours as you did all day.” Can you relate? Have you ever worked somewhere for a while, and then a new employee is hired for the same position…and is paid the same as, if not more than, you?

That stings. And it doesn’t seem fair. And perhaps it’s not. But who gets to determine that?

The God who said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last” determines what’s fair and what isn’t. Count your blessings that He, and not we, make that decision.

In Christ Alone,

-Matt