In Search of Equity in the Vineyard and Today’s Society

“But He answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  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?’” (Matthew 20:13-15 NIV).

The terms “equity” and “fairness” are often used to support an argument in favor of one person that has less resources and against the other person who has more resources.  As a result of our actions in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3, we live in a fallen world and as such there is pain, injustice, and unfairness.  I really wish Adam and Eve had made a roux and turned the snake into a coubion stew!

Now, greed, injustice, and unfairness are prevalent in our society.  There are winners and losers in a zero-sum game for resources.  My understanding of Scripture is such that God is less interested in equity on earth than He is in us accepting Him as Lord and Savior and leading others to Him. 

For those who have been blessed with many resources, they would do well to be generous and remember that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).  Also, they would also be wise to heed the words of Micah 6:8, “ O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

Yes, the Lord wants us to do nice things for each other – to practice justice, love, and mercy.  John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, summed it up with the three rules: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.  On our better days, we all make progress in all three categories, but sadly, on other days we fail.  The good news is that although we are all prone to greed and other sins, God’s love remains steadfast, and we are reminded in Psalm 118:8 to put our trust in Him, not men.

I think God also knows that as sinners, we will fall short, and all of our “good” acts are in reality “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) in His presence.  In short, good deeds are a manifestation of our faith in Him, but there is certainly no salvation through works.  Jesus is the way, not our good acts. 

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20 is a powerful reminder that God uses a different metric than us to decide equity and fairness.  If we work longer than a peer, we want more money than our peer and we will argue that it is not “fair” or “equitable” to pay our colleague the same as us since we have more seniority.    The reality is each worker in the vineyard agreed to work for a given wage, and at the end of the day they received what they were promised. 

I wonder what would have happened if someone had formed a union among the vineyard workers and negotiated a raise for all workers and a bigger raise for those that work longer hours.  Would this person truly be showing love to these workers if he/she was exclusively focused on collective bargaining and did not point the workers to Christ for eternal salvation?  Would the workers be better served in the long-term by the extra dollars on earth or by life everlasting with the Father?  As I typed that last sentence, my mind was drawn to Mark 8:36.  “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

If the owner of the vineyard wants to give the new hires the same wage as those with more seniority, that is at the discretion of the owner.   The owner is the owner, and we are not.  God is God, and we are not.  Clearly, this parable is also teaching us that those that come to Christ later in life after years of denying Him will also receive the same reward as those that came to Christ early in life – the forgiveness of sin and life everlasting with the Father.   There is no extra reward in Heaven for life-long Christians as compared to those that recently accepted Christ prior to their death.  The reward for the life-long Christian is that of an entire life spent in and for Christ.

A lack of equity and fairness can rob us of our peace, but a life lived in Christ and for Christ will grant us a peace that transcends all understanding.  A lack of equity is certainly one of the many troubles that we face on earth, but we can take comfort in the Words of our Lord and Savior in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The pursuit of equity and fairness is a noble pursuit but one that will always come up short.  I do not like a lack of equity or fairness and understand that sometimes those with less resources are responsible for their situation and sometimes they are not.  Regardless, I suspect that the enemy smiles when we continually forgo our calling for evangelism and discipleship in pursuit of chasing the ever-elusive goal of equity and fairness.

Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us.  To me, he was telling us that we will always have inequity and unfairness and we should indeed do all the good we can to help them and in doing so we are showing the love of Christ.  Just because the poor will always be with us is not an excuse to become complacent but rather it is an acknowledgment that equity and fairness will never be found on this fallen earth.

Yes, we will always lack equity in resources, but we do not lack equity in our ability to be in covenant with God and reach Him through His word and prayer.  We all have equity in our ability to submit ourselves to God and live out our faith by daily showing the Fruits of the Spirit.  Salvation is equally available to all, and this is the greatest equity to be found on earth!

Prayer:  Dear God, We have not been an obedient church and we fall short in so many ways.  Life is often unfair, unjust, and resources are not distributed in an equitable manner.  Help us to understand that true equity exists in our access to reach You through your Word and through prayer.  Grant us discretion on how to best use our time to bring honor and glory to You and to show true love to our neighbor.  Amen. 

Meet the Author

Todd Shupe is a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men and a Certified Lay Speaker with the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He is a Board Member for Gulf South Men, an Action Team member for The Kingdom Group, and a Board Member for the Lagniappe Community Walk to Emmaus.  Todd is a Past President of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men and remains active in this and many other local, regional, and international ministries.  Todd is the proud father of Emma and Kyle and resides in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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