Jesus on contract law, minimum wage, and discrimination

The parable of the Day Laborers:

Mat 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
Mat 20:2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Mat 20:3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
Mat 20:4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Mat 20:5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
Mat 20:6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
Mat 20:7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
Mat 20:8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
Mat 20:9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
Mat 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
Mat 20:11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Mat 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
Mat 20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Mat 20:14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Mat 20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
Mat 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Jesus is making an acute point here. He is stressing the concept that those who repent will receive mercy and salvation in the same fashion as those who have all along been righteous. He stresses disproportioned rewards and forgiveness throughout his teachings (Luke 7:41-46 and Luke 15:11-32). Although Jesus is teaching theological concepts, there is much tangential learning that we can get through Jesus’ use of this parable.

Parables are used to illustrate concepts. In order to illustrate concepts, the actors or objects need to mirror reality in some fashion. Would Jesus ever compose a parable likening God to a Mafia boss? For example:

A certain Mafia Boss had two sons whom he contracted to kill rival bosses. He gave them each an advanced payment. One son carried through with the hit while the other decided to spend all the advance payment on partying. After he had spent all his money he crawled back to his father and asked for forgiveness for not performing the hit. The father was overjoyed that his son was asking forgiveness and called for a celebration. In that manner, God will receive those sinners who return to him.

This parable would never been seen in the scriptures. God will never be likened to an evil man. God is the shepherd, the father, the vineyard planter, and the potter. God is not likened to evil people. Likewise, God’s acts in the parables are never likened to evil acts. Jesus never illustrates God’s commands as sins. The shepherd is not shown beating his sheep. The father is not shown torturing his sons. The planter is not shown hoarding the seeds. The potter is not shown making clay idols. Gods actions are not compared to evil.

Likewise, Jesus uses familiar examples. He does not illustrate examples using nuclear physics or abstract metaphysical concepts. Jesus illustrates through watchmen, workers, candles, seeds, and highway thuggery. People understood the connotations and the processes of which Jesus spoke. Their familiar knowledge of the things helped them understand the point of a parable. For example, if Jesus likened God to a contractor hiring laborers then it is very safe to assume that Israel understood that the methodology described in the hiring process was right and good. Understanding this helps the reader of scriptures control for modern cultural biases that they might superimpose on the scripture.

With these concepts in mind, the parable of the Day Laborers teaches Christians much about contract law.

Mat 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
Mat 20:2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

These first verses show that it is morally acceptable to contract for services. This also shows mutual consent in the contracting process and that temporary work relationships are moral. I am reminded of those who criticize Wal-Mart for hiring mostly part-time labor.

It is important for the understanding of the rest of the parable to note that this “penny a day” was market rate (it was the rate at which many individuals thought was fair for a day’s labor).

Mat 20:3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
Mat 20:4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Mat 20:5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
Mat 20:6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
Mat 20:7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.

Jesus reinforces the notion that the coming payment is good and just as he hires successive waves of labor.

Mat 20:8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.

The lord of the vineyard is doing something interesting here. He is lining up wage payouts in reverse order. He knows that this action will inspire instant bitterness that will trickle down the various waves as payout occurs. It appears he is purposefully irking the workers. Is it to help illustrate a principle?

Mat 20:9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
Mat 20:10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.

Jesus paid each person a fair days labor wage. This resulted in unequal pay for unequal work. The modern leftist chant is “equal pay for equal work” which they wish to enforce via government force. Take that in contrast to how Jesus treats unequal wages and contract terms and conditions.

Mat 20:11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Mat 20:12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.

Despite having contracted for a penny’s wage, the workers are complaining about unfairness. They are aptly described as murmurers. See how Jesus treats these thoughts of “unfairness”:

Mat 20:13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?

Jesus states that they are getting the pay for which they contracted. He clearly says that this is not wrong. Even though the contract was not “fair” or “equal” in the relativistic sense of the word, mutually accepted contracts are good and right.

Mat 20:14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Mat 20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
Mat 20:16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Jesus says “take your pay and go away”. He then affirms property rights: he can do what he wants with his own money no matter how “fair” other people think it is. He then calls the complainer “evil” because the complainer was filled with bitterness, jealousy, and (more explicitly revealed in the text) was trying to tell other people what is right and fair to do with the other person’s own money. Jesus despised the leftists.

In my family we have a rule: “do not begrudge others for getting things that we are not entitled to get.” For example, my section at work, for a time, were required to come in an extra hour early to curb vehicle traffic. We left an hour before everyone else. Problematically, when everyone was given a last minute hour off of work, my section missed out on it. One day I was driving away bitter as I thought the situation through. I was in the wrong, I concluded. I am not entitled to any free hour off of work. I contracted for a set amount of time. Just because those in other sections get a benefit that I do not, does not entitle me to bitterness or anger. Begrudging others is evil, especially when it involves being rightly compensated for your own contract.

A good Christian can apply these concepts to a whole host of evil government laws: minimum wage laws, affirmative action laws, equal pay acts, government enforced CEO pay caps, and anything else involving other parties telling a second party what prices are “fair” and “right” to pay certain people.

This concept can extend further: those who tell employers who they can and can not hire are also evil. If an employer wants to only hire males who have stay-at-home wives, and reject all single women, Jesus would say to the complainers: “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”. Those who tell others how much and with whom to contract are evil.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian Maxim, Contracting, Jesus, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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