|our roads may be golden, or broken, or lost (elliemurasaki) wrote,|
@ 2012-04-12 01:03 pm UTC
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“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?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
The intended meaning of this parable, as indicated by the 'for the kingdom of heaven is like' opening, is that people who are raised in the faith and people who convert later in life and people who convert on their deathbeds all get the same reward, a ticket to heaven. Taken as intended, it's an explicitly religious—more, explicitly sectarian—metaphor.
But there's also the plain text of the story. In that plain text, people are working for a denarius a day. It's important to understand that a denarius was the usual day's wage for an unskilled laborer. John 12:5 talks about perfume worth a year's pay, or three hundred denarii: given that no work was done on the Sabbath and allowing for rounding error, three hundred denarii is right on the money. Revelation 6:6 also mentions denarii: two pounds of wheat, enough to make six cups of flour which (with other ingredients) makes two medium-sized loaves of bread, for one denarius. Two medium-sized loaves of bread is about enough to feed one person for one day, and it won't feed that person well. Three times that quantity of barley, which, if barley converts to flour at the same rate wheat does, will feed a small family for a day. The initial readers of Revelation would have known this, and known therefore that the rider of the black horse of Revelation 6:5 is Famine, because only in time of famine would these foods be expensive enough that one day's wages would barely stretch to cover one day's food. Remember that no work was done and no money earned on the Sabbath: if six days' pay didn't cover at least seven days' food, people went hungry.
So one denarius a day, six denarii a week, was a living wage.
Back to the plain text of Matthew 20. Work one day, earn one denarius, buy one day's food, with enough extra over the course of the week to buy food for the Sabbath; that was the understood way of life for unskilled workers in the Roman Empire at the time this particular preacher lived, and that was the contract that the people who started work in this vineyard at dawn were signing. Twelve hours of work for one-twelfth of a denarius an hour.
The people hired second did nine hours of work for one-ninth of a denarius an hour. Third, six hours for a sixth of a denarius an hour. Fourth, three hours for a third of a denarius an hour. And last, one hour for a whole denarius an hour.
Framed like that, it's easy to see why the people hired earlier were upset by the landowner's decision to give everyone the same day's wages. Wouldn't you be?
The thing is, though, the people working for a denarius an hour weren't working the whole day. They couldn't. No one would hire them. And they'd have taken a lower pay rate per hour if they could have, as long as it was enough money per day to get them through the day.
This parable is an example of 'trickle-down' economics working the way the theory says it should. People without money to feed themselves + person with lots of money and some work to be done = jobs.
Here in the real world, though, trickle-down economics is a miserable failure. People with money tend to prefer sitting on their money over giving it to other people.
The plain text of the parable has another message: the kingdom of heaven is a place where everyone who needs a job has one, and everyone who has a job earns enough in a week to live on for a week.
The kingdom of heaven is, we assume, desirable.
Whether this means making minimum wage a living wage or instituting a negative income tax for people who make less than a living wage (and in either case, ensuring a job to everyone who needs one) or simply paying every citizen enough to live on whether they work or not, I don't particularly care. How it is accomplished that everyone gets enough to live on is less important than that it is accomplished.
The 2011 gross domestic product of the United States was 15,094 billion dollars. The current US population is 313 million people. If I've done the math right, that works out to about fifty thousand dollars per person. 'Enough to live on' in the US is less than fifty thousand dollars—call it thirty thousand. Assume thirty thousand per person, and that comes out to 9.39 trillion dollars, leaving most of six trillion to be divvied up however.
The United States is more than rich enough to ensure that all its people have at least enough.
The United States, further, is (or so many US folk claim) a Christian nation. Matthew 20:1-16 comes from the sayings of an itinerant preacher, oh, what was his name...
I find it incomprehensible that a country filled with people dedicated to this man's teachings refuses to even consider the possibility of following them.