Monday 1st May Hope for a just economy that enables the flourishing of all life (part 1)
St Matthew 20:1-14
[Jesus said:] ‘For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the market-place; and he said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, “Why are you standing here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, “Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.” When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.”
But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.”’
Like many young children, my offspring have an acute sensitivity to unfairness. Rarely a day goes by without one of them exclaiming “That’s not fair!” – usually when it’s they that are on the receiving end of the perceived injustice.
In Jesus’ story, the workers who had laboured all day in the vineyard were likewise up in arms to discover that those who had started work after them were receiving the same pay.
But the parable suggests we might need to re-examine what we think it means for something to be fair.
Today is International Workers’ Day. Over the last few years, the UK has seen an unprecedented growth in the numbers of people who are in work but also in poverty. Real-terms wages for workers are lower than they were in 2008, and a long way from keeping up with the rising cost of living. The Trussell Trust recently reported that 1 in 5 people referred to its food banks were from households where someone worked.
Is it fair that wages do not provide enough to meet people’s needs, and benefit rates are insufficient too?
In the parable, we see an alternative approach taken to fairness. At the end of the day, the generous landowner provides all the labourers with a full day’s wage. In God’s economy, everyone should have enough to live.
One of the six hopes for society which guides the work of the Joint Public Issues Team is for ‘a just economy that enables the flourishing of all life’. The Bible offers us a vision of abundant life where the economy serves the dignity and wellbeing of people and communities, within the bounds of the sustainability of creation. When, by contrast, our current economic system leaves many in poverty, as well as degrading our planet, is it time to call out “it’s not fair”?