The concept of reward is one that encapsulates a world of joys, satisfactions, pleasant emotions, and accomplishments. It is usually correlated with what we do, what we say, who we are, and so on. We could say that it is an expression of our value in relation to the world. But any reward can be overshadowed by painful feelings when there is a long period of waiting for the reward to come.

Injustice seems to have been raised to the level of divine norm in the parable of the vineyard workers in the Gospel of Matthew.

Equal chances, and even more

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’” (Matthew 20:1-7).

This parable refers to the Kingdom of Heaven, and shows God’s willingness to save anyone who wants to be saved. In the concrete, man-made world, such an offer does not exist. But the parable is especially intriguing given that, in its second part, the initial benevolence is contradicted by the seeming injustice of the way the reward is offered.

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.’ 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” (Matthew 20:1-16).

Reward and justice on family grounds

Ken Grenda is certainly one of the best and most generous bosses. He got 400 million AUD for his family business when he sold it, but he didn’t think only about himself. His employees were astounded when they were rewarded with bonuses of up to one hundred thousand Australian dollars. In total, the bonuses amounted to 16 million AUD. Moreover, Grenda made sure that all his employees kept their jobs. He sold the company with a clause that stated that all 1,800 of his former employees were to keep their jobs.

In all the 66 years Ken Grenda spent with his company’s employees, all his subordinates were treated equally, as if they were part of his family.[1]

The case of Ken Grenda sheds light on how the parable of Jesus should be read. Its surprising perspective on reward and justice becomes easier to understand when compared to Ken Grenda’s story. The attitude of the employer, for example, arises from another type of relationship, different from that of the employer-employee type, which is a family relationship.

Auguste Comte postulated that family is what determines that an individual will move from selfishness to altruism. Inside the family, the fairness of reward distribution is not based on quantity, but on quality, on attitude and sometimes simply on belonging to the family (needs are met in spite of unworthiness, by virtue of unconditional love). A baby has the same right to receive love, food or clothing, compared to older siblings, although, quantitatively, a baby’s material contribution to the well-being of the family is different. In a family, things happen differently and we must not forget that “we are children of a large family”, as St John Chrysostom noted.

Injustice: Not based on merit

At the age of 13, James Harrison underwent major chest surgery, needing a whopping 12 litres of blood. After the operation and recovery, which meant three months of hospitalization, Harrison realized the importance of donating blood and vowed to do so as soon as he was allowed to, at 18 years old. Even though he was terribly afraid of needles, Harrison gathered up courage and kept his word. What followed is a real miracle—doctors discovered an antibody in his blood that could cure children of a disease called Rhesus, which causes anaemia, brain damage, and even death.

Realizing what he could do with this gift, Harrison continued to donate blood, although he still admits that he can’t stand the needles and the pain. It’s been 59 years since then, and James Harrison continues to donate blood 33 times a year and is determined to do so until he is no longer able to or until he reaches “the magic number 1111”. He is nicknamed “the man with the golden arm” and so far, he has donated 1,040 times. Estimates show that 2.4 million children have been saved by his unusual gift. Harrison has even met some of the people he has saved.[2]

Harrison’s generosity has nothing to do with the merits of those who have benefited from it, just as the generosity of the master of the vineyard, who represents God, has nothing to do with any obligation or duty. It is a helping hand out of unconditional love.

This subtlety was observed and emphasized by the apostle Paul when he asked, “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). An important characteristic of God is rewarding according to His kindness and one’s need.

Equality of opportunity, offered by God to all people, is not an injustice, but a cause for joy. The length of a service should not be seen as merit, but as a privilege. The fact that God integrates us into His family, places our relationship with Him and the relationship between each other on a new level, makes a relationship with Him different from those we have become accustomed to. The God of justice seems unjust only when looking at things from a selfish perspective. The truth is, God is wronged by our perceptions as long as they remain spoiled by the experience of sin.

About God, but also about us

Albert Einstein was convinced that “man begins to live when he begins to live for others.”

Her father’s birthday was approaching, so little Riley Christensen sat down next to her mother, Lynn, in front of the computer. They already knew what they were going to buy: a bicycle. They just had to choose the model and find the best price. Jumping from one link to another, the search led them to a video featuring Project Mobility, an initiative that promotes bicycles designed specifically for people with disabilities.

Riley was captivated. It showed the happy faces of those who were now riding them—accident victims, injured veterans, and children with disabilities, including the project’s founder’s young son, who was born with cerebral palsy.

“I’m going to buy a bike for one of those kids,” she said to her mother, who was feeling sceptical about the prices that went up to $4,000 for a particular model. But Riley didn’t give up.

She wrote letters to 75 relatives and friends in which she told them how she thought “it’s amazing for a guy to make bikes for kids who can’t walk” and asked them for a donation. Within only three days, Riley began receiving checks. The news of the fundraiser spread quickly and more and more donations were collected until, around Christmas, the little girl had raised more than $12,000.

“I’m going to buy a bike for one of those kids,” she said to her mother, who was feeling sceptical about the prices that went up to $4,000 for a particular model. But Riley didn’t give up.

On Christmas Eve, Riley dressed up as Santa and delivered bikes to three children with disabilities, Ava, Rose and Jenny. She actually remained friends with one of them, Ava, and they played together, out riding their bikes. “When I ride, I like to go fast, get sweaty, and feel the breeze,” Riley said. “So does Ava. She pumps with her arms, not her feet, but she really flies.” Riley decided to raise money every year. “I want kids to feel the wind in their faces,” she said.[3]

The parable of the workers of the vineyard not only speaks of a God of equal opportunities, but also has an implicit message that deeply affects us: genuine and complete satisfaction does not come from having more than the next person or from gaining what we have at the expense of another, but from the joy of our neighbour.

[1]„Elissa Doherty, Meet Victoria’s Nest Boss Who Gave His Staff a $15m Bonus,, February 1, 2012.”
[2]„«Man with the golden arm» saves 2 million babies in half a century of donating rare type of blood ,, March 23, 2010.”
[3]„Gary Sledge, 5 Stories That Celebrate the Spirit of Giving, Reader’s Digest, December 2010,”

„Elissa Doherty, Meet Victoria’s Nest Boss Who Gave His Staff a $15m Bonus,, February 1, 2012.”
„«Man with the golden arm» saves 2 million babies in half a century of donating rare type of blood ,, March 23, 2010.”
„Gary Sledge, 5 Stories That Celebrate the Spirit of Giving, Reader’s Digest, December 2010,”