Jon Hyman of Ohio Employer's Law Blog posted on Monday "What would Jesus pay? Day rates under the FLSA." Jon begins:
So I sat in church yesterday morning listening to the parable about the workers in the vineyard. Since I’m Jewish and haven’t spent a whole lot of time inside churches, it was the first time I had ever heard this story.
As it happens, I listened to that same Gospel reading on Sunday, which leads me to believe that Jon was likely in a Catholic Church. A neat thing about Catholic churches is that whether you are sitting in a church in Ohio or in Alabama as I was on Sunday, everybody is following the same universal readings.
The Gospel reading we heard was Matthew 20:1-16:
1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the market place; 4 and to them he said, `You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. 5 Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing; and he said to them, `Why do you stand here idle all day?' 7 They said to him, `Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, `You go into the vineyard too.' 8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, `Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.' 9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the householder, 12 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.' 13 But he replied to one of them, `Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first last."
This reading inspired Jon to give some thoughts on day rates under the FLSA. I don't have anything labor and employment law related to add, other than to say that even two thousand years ago the fairness of pay appears to have been an issue readily understood by Jesus' audience. In the absence of something to say about labor and employment law, I'll give some thoughts on the passage and close with a question about labor and employment law.
It's easy to see why the laborers who had worked all day were angry that they were paid the same as those who had toiled for only an hour. It's not fair. There is a human yearning for things to be fair, and that yearning colors a lot of our laws and interactions. But Christianity isn't fair.
A more familiar parable is that of the prodigal son. It's not fair that the brother who did the right thing his whole life sits by while the fattened calf is slaughtered upon his squandering brother's return. If a woman is a pious saint from an early age and dies a martyr, God's reward for her is the same as the murderer who finds salvation on death row. That's not fair. This is a feature, not a bug. It's called grace. We are sinners and if we all got what we deserved, heaven would be a lonely place. Grace is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God.
Something more on point to think about: To what extent has the concept of grace influenced our labor and employment laws?
By the way, here is an incentive to go to a Catholic Church on this coming Sunday: you will hear another parable about work on a vineyard.