The Parable of the Living Wage

3 thoughts on “The Parable of the Living Wage”

  1. Thanks for this post. I like the reading that Jesus is actually talking about wages and workers and economic conditions, and not just giving us a nice allegory about God’s grace being given out equally. Perhaps we can push it a little further, though?

    A number of scholars would question whether a denarius was actually a living wage. It was meager, and perhaps not enough to live on. Another reading is that we shouldn’t conflate the wealthy vineyard owner with God, but simple leave him as Jesus describes him: a wealthy elite who takes advantage of a surplus workforce during an economic downturn (work must be hard to come by if there are laborers standing around looking for work at all hours of the day—and this landowner takes advantage of it, hiring people without even allowing them to negotiate for a wage: “I’ll pay you whatever is right” – but right according to him, not the workers).

    The workers are the ones who complain at the end of the story, and we’re trained to reject their complaints and side with the landowner, but is that really who Jesus or his audience would side with or be sympathetic to? I have my doubts. Jesus may well be highlighting the workers’ complaint, and showing that it is time to speak up against an economic system that is taking advantage of day laborers who have no resource but their own manual labor.

    But at the end of the story the owner shames these workers and their efforts. They have worked all day and he has *not* paid them a proper wage: ‘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.’

    The landowner unsurprisingly has no sympathy for the workers: “Am I not allowed to do what I want with what belongs to me? Take your pay and go.”

    See William Herzog’s brilliant work: “Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue for the Oppressed” for a fantastic exposition on this and some other parables.

    Thanks for your post! It helps readers think about this parable differently.

    1. Wow! Thanks so much for all of these thoughts! I have a BA in Religion, but I’m no Bible scholar and always appreciate additional perspective, so thank you, and for the suggestion for further resources. I love your shift in perspective of who we are actually supposed to side with in the story, something that hadn’t occurred to me. Nor was I aware about the disagreement among scholars about the actual value of a denarius. That would change things. In either perspective, I think it fits with what we’re taught elsewhere in scripture about “what the kingdom of heaven is like.” I always appreciate being stretched in my theology and understanding of biblical text, so thanks so much! Very appreciated!

      1. You bet! Maybe a book to add to the Christmas list? It was mind-blowing to me when I first read this perspective, and it is quite compelling, not to mention timely. I rarely see a more ‘materialist’ reading of the parables so I was intrigued and blessed by coming across yours. Thanks!

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