There is a cute video of an experiment on unfairness conducted by researchers on two Capuchin monkeys.
The monkeys were placed in side-by-side cages, that had openings allowing the monkeys to receive and give items to the researchers.
As part of this, the woman conducting the experiment rewarded the monkeys if they handed her a small stone.
It started with the researcher receiving a stone from the monkey on the left and rewarding it with a piece of cucumber.
The researcher then turned to the monkey on the right and gave it a grape after receiving a small stone.
Though the Capuchin monkeys are fine with cucumbers, they look upon grapes as caviar. The monkey that had gotten the cucumber immediately noticed that his companion had received a grape.
The researcher returned to the first monkey, and after it gave her a stone, the researcher handed it a cucumber a second time.
The reaction was immediate, after taking a small nibble from the cucumber, the monkey outraged by the unfairness took the remainder of the cucumber, threw it at the handler, and demanded a grape.
He was not going to put up with this blatant unfairness for the same amount of work.
Like Campuchins, people tend to be outraged when things are not fair.
And we have a similar story about unfairness in one of Jesus’ parables with an odd twist because it seems to defend treating people unfairly.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner, who was looking for people to work his vineyard.
This is the critical point. He said this was a principle on how the Kingdom of Heaven operates.
When the owner of the vineyard showed up early in the morning at the spot where men gathered looking for work, he hired all the available men, agreeing to pay them a denarius for a day’s work.
This was a fair wage, and they set to work in the vineyard.
But the owner needed more workers and returned again at 9 am, noon, 3 pm, and 5 pm looking for workers. He hired all who were available and agreed to pay them what was right.
At the end of the workday, the owner paid all his workers, exactly the same wage, one denarius.
The men who were hired the earliest, and put in the most hours, were outraged. They said it was unfair that the other workers received the same wage, though some had only worked a fraction of the hours.
But the owner said they were paid what was agreed.
Remember, that Jesus said this is how the Kingdom of God operates.
So, what is the lesson here?
Is it a story of how treating people unfairly is fair?
I don’t think so.
Even though the men showed up for work at different times, they all needed the money, or they wouldn’t have been at the worker’s market.
But obviously, there were things going on in their life that hindered them from showing up at a decent time.
Perhaps, they were delayed because there were problems that needed to be dealt with. Maybe there were family issues. Children problems.
Maybe, they were having a bad day, and multiple things were going wrong.
Maybe they were dealing with personal issues, such as addictions, or struggling with fear, worry, rejection, depression, or feelings of inadequacy.
Perhaps they were told as a child that they were stupid and would never amount to anything, and lived under this cloud. Often the things we struggle with as adults are connected to events that happened in our childhood, which are still clinging to us.
People have issues, and some more than others, that hinder them from moving forward.
This parable suggests that the most important thing to God is that you break free from those things that are holding you back.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, the reward is not based on how much you work, but that you conquered these issues and fulfilled your calling, even if it’s late in the day.
Maybe it will take you to your 50s or 60s to deal with them, while others with fewer issues conquered them in their 20s or 30s.
To Jesus, the important thing is that you did.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)