What are we “worth?”

Sometimes people measure their worth by the size of their income or investments, although we know there are many ways we cannot measure our worth to others in terms of dollars or euros… But it is deeply ingrained in our economic life that income is compensation for labour or merit. Effort, ability, dependability—should somehow be reflected in how we are rewarded. 

Thus is it deeply unsettling and even shocking to hear in this parable from Matthew about how different the kingdom of heaven is from an earthly household! The picture is clear about the householder going out to hire workers at different times—epochs of the day—in the freshness of dawn, in mid-morning, in the heat of noon, in mid-afternoon and as the day cools just before sunset. 

The early workers agree on the value of a day’s work, but the later workers trust they will be paid, or the latest perhaps go to work for the sake of being able to work. And everyone in the end receives one denarius. The one who grumbles that he was not paid more is addressed by the householder (Christ), as “friend.” 

This word translated in the Greek text is “hetairos,” not “philos,” which is also a common term of endearment. Matthew uses this term “hetairos” only three times in the whole gospel, pointing to a subtle significance. The first use of this word is here in Matthew 20:13. The next place is addressing the man who comes to the royal wedding without a wedding garment, Matthew 22:12. And the final use of this word comes at Gethsemane, addressing the betrayer. 

“Hetairos” can also be translated as comrade, acknowledging the importance of being a “co-worker.” And so the workers in the vineyard are not merely workers: they are co-workers with and for God! From this perspective, they are paid with a reward that cannot be more or less. A denarius is a silver coin used by the Romans that is impressed with the name and portrait of Caesar, who gives the value to the coin. The name “denarius” has the number “10” woven into it. It represents Caesar’s saying, “I give worth.” 

The wages for the workers in the vineyard become the power to develop their “I.” The carriers of an “I” given by God will in the future ascend to the 10th rank in the hierarchies, just below the angels.

What are we “worth?” We are worth the love of the Father and co-working with God.

Contemplation by Rev. Susan Locey