I wasn’t aware of the parable that takes up the first half of chapter 20, but now I’m fascinated by it. It presents a group of laborers who worked for different amounts of time, but all got paid the same; the longer-working laborers complained, but got the following response, from Matthew 20:13-15:
Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
Emotionally, I’m on the side of the longer-working laborers here: but why? If they would have felt adequately paid in the absence of the other laborers, then why are they bothered by how the other laborers are treated?
The key here is, of course, the comparison. If the other laborers hadn’t worked at all, and it had been pure charity, I imagine that the laborers who had worked wouldn’t have felt bad. And then there’s another potential scenario that Jesus doesn’t give us: what if both sets of workers had worked the same amount, but they’d gotten radically different pay rates, the lower of which would, in other circumstances, be acceptable? The same argument seems to apply that the lower-paid set of workers shouldn’t feel bad; I bet they would, though, and they’d feel like the person in charge is unfairly playing favorites.
I dunno. I’m still mostly on the side of the longer-working laborers, and, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t set my alarm clock early the next day. But “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” is a very good question.
The rest of the chapter doesn’t strike me as strongly. I do, however, like the call to servant leadership in Matthew 20:26-28, in particular “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:27).
This post has not been revised since publication.