Was Jesus a Socialist?

By: Guy Templeton
April 17, 2014

The parable of the lord of the vineyard hires workers to do specific work in his fields in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon and at the end of the day. At the end of the day, he pays every single one of them a full day’s wage (to the great dismay of the workers who had been working since the early morning.) Whether the worker is hired early in the day or an hour before quitting time makes no difference in the wages/blessing/gifts given. Jesus responds that the lord of the vineyard is the one who decides who gets hired, when, and for what job.

This seems to fly in the face of capitalist principles.  What say you?

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21 Responses to Was Jesus a Socialist?

  1. Nate on April 17, 2014 at 2:02 AM

    I think one could interpret the story in a socialist way. However, you also have the parable of the talents, with it’s more capitalist message to compete with. I think that both stories illustrate the arbitrary grace of God.

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  2. ji on April 17, 2014 at 4:23 AM

    It’s wholly a capitalist story. The employer is voluntarily generous.

    As you said, the employer “decides who gets hired, when, and for what job.” There’s no socialism there.

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  3. MH on April 17, 2014 at 7:12 AM

    ji, what if every employer worked that way? Is heaven going to be filled with a bunch of people who show up to work late?

    “arbritrary grace of God.” I think there are some people who wouldn’t view heavan as a good place to be.

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  4. Benjamin on April 17, 2014 at 7:18 AM

    As already stated, this can be interpreted in a capitalist or socialist frame. Either way seems silly to me, though because it over extends the analogy. Christ wasn’t trying to make social commentary. He was trying to make spiritual commentary.

    So, while you’re free to make any social interpretation you want (using ‘you’ generally), I have my doubts that Christ would put his name on your interpretation.

    (I know…I’m a party pooper)

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  5. Ken on April 17, 2014 at 7:53 AM

    Jesus was not a political figure, but the son of God focucing on changing the individual not the government.

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  6. New Iconoclast on April 17, 2014 at 9:56 AM

    The unfortunate thing about this parable is not the way in which it seems to support socialism (I agree with Benjamin in #4; the Savior is not trying to make an economic statement), but the way in which it is misused to support the modern evangelical Protestant notion of “lightswitch salvation” – I confess Jesus, believe, and am “saved.” Heaven, whatever that means, is now guaranteed (with some subsidiary debate as to whether or not that condition is permanent or reversible).

    From an LDS perspective, I think that what is probably being said is that the person who fulfills the requirements to avail him/herself of God’s grace (FRBGE) to obtain exaltation is going to get that reward, whether one was born in the covenant or converts at a relatively advanced age.

    As to socialism, before we draw any political conclusions from the parable, we might first note that there are a number of places in Scripture where the value of individual effort is stressed, and we might note also that even in this parable, first and foremost, EVERYBODY FREAKING WORKS – exactly what is not incentivized in a socialist system.

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  7. Douglas on April 17, 2014 at 10:01 AM

    The Savior’s parable merely illustrates the concept of GRACE. That’s right, folks, we LDS, contrary to whatever many so-called Evangelicals would characterize us, believe strongly in the concept of grace. The Savior, as the LORD of all (certainly His “vinyard”), decides who gets rewarded and with what.
    As others pointed out, since the “equality” shown is purely the Lord’s discretion, there is no “socialism” here. That is, there is no group of self-appointed politicians who are merely ‘benevolent’, or doing it “for the CHILDREN”, etc., but whom magically seem to do well by it (limos, dachas, bodyguards, etc..).
    The ‘grace’ is not merely incumbent upon the Savior, of course. Those that started laboring in the vinyard early ought to feel glad for the opportunity, not resentful of those that don’t show up until late in the afternoon. We ‘labor’ in His vinyard out of gratitude for what He has given us (gift of Eternal Life), not b/c we expect to profit monetarily.

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  8. IDIAT on April 17, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    I, too, don’t think it’s an economic or political parable. However, I see it as capitalistic, with the Lord (business owner) saying he is in charge of who is hired, what they make, etc. No union negotiation or collective bargaining. Strictly a hire and fire at will type of farm business. Don’t know how the Lord got to be in charge of the vineyard. Maybe he’s a self starter. Maybe he inherited it. Maybe he worked his way up and bought the business from the old Lord. In any event, he is in charge and if you, the employee, don’t like the way he runs things (like hiring people through out the day and giving them the same wages), you might need to have an attitude adjustment.

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  9. Frank Pellett on April 17, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    I wonder if there is something unsaid about the workers in the exchange. I mean, what kind of supervisor hires only half the people they need to do the job? I think he hired what he considered to be enough people to do the whole job, and it wasn’t getting done fast enough, so more workers are hired, again with the assumption that this many workers would be able to complete the whole job. Again, the workers aren’t doing all they could, so again more have to be hired. The workers hired before slack off more, thinking the job will still get done, especially with so many more people.

    So maybe the workers being given the same amount means they did the same amount of work, and was couched in “we made a deal” language to avoid a fight over how lazy the first workers were.

    Not necessarily everyone who wanted to work was hired, so tying it to grace doesn’t really work for me.

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  10. Last Lemming on April 17, 2014 at 12:29 PM

    It’s just supply and demand. The lord of the vineyard’s demand for labor increases over the course of the day, while the supply of labor diminishes over the same period. Those forces will conspire to increase the hourly wage each additional worker can demand. So it’s not the owner calling all the shots, nor is it in any way socialistic.

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  11. Ken on April 17, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    If you have to put a political hat on the Savior, it would for sure have a GOP embeded front and center. Although this parable has some collective componets, the overall plan of salvation (which has some socislist ideals like all will be resurrected) is a capatilist based merit system that sends us all to different kingdoms based on our application of his word.

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  12. MH on April 17, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    GOP front and center……really? God is part of the GOP? With all the corruption in Washington, do you really think God would claim any of that–or would God claim to be a Consecrationist?

    I think God would feel insulted to be labeled either a republican or a democrat. Neither operate on the principles of righteousness, despite the outlandish claims of some (like Ken in 11.) Puhleeez.

    I suggest you take the beam out of your eye–it’s blinding you pretty badly. I don’t think Heaven operates at all on capitalist principles, and I think this parable is a PERFECT example. (There will be many who cry Lord, Lord…..

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  13. Dave K on April 17, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    The parable is socialistic. Jesus didn’t check the worker’s papers to see if they were documented. Take that Sheriff Joe!

    The parable is capitalistic. Christ paid the workers precisely according to their contractual agreement, even when the workers tried to collectively bargain for an ex-post better deal. Take that unions!

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  14. Ken on April 17, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    MH,

    You made the same point I made in #5 — he wouldn’t wear any political hat. Secondly, I didn’t say GOP (the conservative side anyway) would be the only label on the hat, it would just be the most prominent. He surely wouldn’t put the parties that support (or don’t loudly condemn) abortion, pornography, drug use or out of control spending in a prominent view.

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  15. Rich Brown on April 17, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    If this story were to take place in our day, my first thought would probably be: Those workers sure need a good, strong union, because they’re being exploited by the greedy tactics of the vineyard owner. Sheesh, how unfair!

    But it’s a parable, so I have to begin with the point of view that it’s not a literal story; it’s a lesson about something else. And I believe that something else is the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom does not operate according to the way we human beings organize and run things. In our better moments we human beings value principles such as fairness and equality and the democratic process, but of course we frequently don’t measure up. God’s kingdom is not about fairness or equality, it’s all about grace. This isn’t a contractual arrangement we’re talking about here, it’s a covenant. And so the question that comes to my mind is: Who are those workers who slide in at the end, getting the same reward as the folks who toiled under the hot sun all day?

    It may be a hard pill to swallow, but perhaps those folks who show up at the end of the story are us Christians. The children of Abraham and Sarah (the tribes of Israel, and in particular the Jews) were chosen by God a long, long time ago. Maybe the eve of Good Friday is a good time to recall that God never turned God’s back on those chosen ones. Apostle Paul had something to say about that in Romans chapter 11.

    What’s undoubtedly an even harder pill for us to swallow is that maybe we’re the ones who were brought in at midday. What if God’s planning to bring in a whole bunch of others after us? Hmm, how terribly unfair! Here we’ve put in all the “work of salvation” and God’s just going to let the riff-raff in? They don’t deserve it. But then, neither do we.

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  16. Jace on April 18, 2014 at 6:15 AM

    Christ rises above all of our petty political thoughts. There are elements of truth in almost every one, which is why we always hear from time to time, “Jesus is a capitalist/communist/liberal/conservative/etc.” and here are cherry-picked verses that show that.

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  17. Jettboy on April 18, 2014 at 8:11 AM
  18. MB on April 18, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    Rich, #15.

    Not exploited. The amount they were paid, a drachma, translated as “a penny” in Matthew 20, was the average daily pay for a laborer at the time. It was enough to keep his family going that day with a bit left over. And as he hired each worker the Lord promised them that. By the world’s standards of the time the Lord is being fair to the early workers and generous to the later ones.

    Each potential laborer looked for daily hiring by standing in the marketplace, and people looking for laborers would seek them there. The laborers all needed work in order to support their families. They all stayed in the marketplace through the whole hot dusty day hoping for employment however long it took. The Lord hired them to work in the vineyard he owned as he needed them. And he contracted with them to pay them a good wage as he hired them.

    And he didn’t just contract to give the all-day workers pay that was enough for them to support their family that day, he contracted with every worker enough pay for them to support their family that day.

    So the all-day workers, who were given a fair day’s wage and can feed their families with it are complaining that the able bodied workers who worked only part of the day received enough to feed their families too. (Both socialists in a nationalized system and capitalists in a private system would similarly complain in such a situation.)

    The message is about the erroneous focus on “fairness” by the all-day workers. The Lord isn’t “fair”, he hires when the timing is best and makes sure that every worker who wants to work and who does work, whether they are called early or late, receives enough to live on.

    The Lord is not exploiting the all day workers, he’s paying them a reasonable wage. And the pay isn’t based upon the work the worker is physically “able to do” in a guaranteed all day job in a communally or governmentally regulated enterprise (socialism) nor on the work that he actually does during the day in a privately owned enterprise (capitalism). It’s based upon what the Lord individually promised each worker when he hired him: enough to cover the well-being of the worker who came to work when he was called and of those that worker cares for.

    We don’t earn our reward. We don’t get greater rewards for longer service to the divine. Heaven is not a meritocracy. We work, called early or called late. And by his grace, we receive enough for what is needful. That was what was explained when we were hired.

    Capitalism and socialism could both claim elements of this parable, but it is neither one. It’s a one-being theocracy with just one considerate, conscientious, hard-working, generous “theo”, the Lord, overseeing the work the workers do.

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  19. Rich Brown on April 18, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    MB: I think we’re in essential agreement that the parable is about divine grace, which is the central principle of the kingdom of God. And I think we can also agree the present world operates according to something other than grace. Good Friday is a prime example of that.

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  20. MB on April 18, 2014 at 12:35 PM

    Rich,
    Yes.

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  21. jpv on April 18, 2014 at 8:22 PM

    Parable of the talents anyone?

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