OPINION: A parable on unequal wages


Pastor, Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church
Columbia, Mo.

People of all faiths should be interested in, and defenders of, basic equality when it comes to matters involving employment and wages.

Sadly, in America we do not have equality of wages. It has been well established that women, on average, are paid less than men for the same or similar work. One source sets the disparity between male and female compensation at 79 percent — women are paid 79 cents compared to men receiving $1. For black women the disparity sits at 65 percent, and for Hispanic women 61 percent. How very unjust, that women are discriminated against in this manner.

Jesus, like any good rabbi, taught in parables. A parable has been described as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.  It is a short story that has some moral, ethical or religious teaching. One of the parables of Jesus, which appears only in the Gospel of Matthew (16:1-16), is the “Workers in the Vineyard.”

This is an interesting parable as it seems to stand for the proposition that unequal pay is acceptable.

However, to read it in that way is to totally misunderstand the teaching and miss the point of what Jesus was portraying concerning the Heavenly Father.

The story is about the owner of a vineyard hiring workers – day laborers. He hired men at six in the morning, and more at nine, noon, three and five.  At the end of the day, the owner paid all workers a full day’s pay. Those who worked 12 hours complained. They felt it was unfair for those who had not worked 12 hours to be paid as if they had.

The response of the owner was: “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a day’s wage? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous? So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Without going into a detailed discussion of the parable, I simply say, what Jesus wanted his listeners to understand was God is a gracious, generous and giving God. God is a God of justice and equality. He wants the best for humankind irrespective of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, or religious creed.

America needs employers willing, on essential labor relations issues, to be guided by a principle of all faiths — respect and care for each other. That is, to conduct our affairs mindful of how we want to be treated. Likewise, laborers should maintain that same attitude relative to employers and the issues important to them — a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

Do unto others as you desire others to do unto you is always worthy emulation.


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