The parable of the interviewer who made his candidates wait all day

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Did you see the story about the employer who invited 6 people for interview? They were told to be there for 7am. However, he didn’t start interviewing then. Rather he left them to wait. By 3pm 2 of them had given 3 of them had given up and left.  By 6pm only 2 were left. The employer returned and offered them the job.

It’s shared as one of those positive, encouraging stories with a moral. See this tweet  telling us that the moral is that you’ve got to have patience.

 I’m not convinced.  Rather, it seems to me that the 3 who left by 3pm and the one who left before 6pm made the right choice. Patience is a good quality to look for in an employee but that doesn’t justify having a boss who tries your patience. Good virtues are not there to be exploited and that’s exactly what the employer does in this scenario. He relies on the goodwill of others. Indeed, he is probably exploiting the desperation of those people for work. I agree with Steve Kneale.

I hope that this is a made up story, an urban myth but it sadly reflects the way in which a lot of people operate. They see power as a means to control and coerce others, to take advantage of their reasonableness with acts of unreasonableness.  Incidentally, I also would suggest that he ends up with the wrong type of employees too. Yes they may be patient, compliant, deferential but he also has got two people who won’t ask questions, challenge or spot when something isn’t quite right.

Interestingly I’ve seen people suggest that the story is very similar to one that Jesus told. That raises some questions too because that’s fantastic if we see the story as having a positive moral but if there’s a darker undercurrent to it then how does that make us think of Jesus’ teaching.  Well perhaps it is better to look at what Jesus actually did say. I can think of two possibilities for the parable people have in mind.

First of all, there’s the story of the bridesmaids.  They turn up ready to greet the groom but he is delayed and some of them run out of oil for their lamps (Matthew 25:1-11). Note that at the point the groom arrives all are present but 5 are ready to greet him with their lamps burning bright whilst the other 5 head off to get more oil because they hadn’t brought oil with them.  The parable is not about a test of patience, there is no game playing here. It is about being ready with what you need to greet Christ on his return.

The other parable is about a man who hires people to work in his field. He hires different workers throughout the day.  At the end of the day he pays each worker the same even though some have worked longer.  The point is that this is his prerogative, no one has been short changed, it is simply that he is generous in his care for his workers.

The parables of Jesus do not point to someone who is testing patience, trying to catch out but to a loving and merciful God who overflows with generosity.  If God were the employer in the story, he would be there at 7am to greet the employees and to tell them there’s enough wages and work for them all.  If this were one of Jesus’ parables then he wouldn’t be waiting to see who turned up for interview and stayed. He would be out there on the street looking for people who needed work.

This matters for two reasons. First of all, it matters because of how we think about God and his character. Do we see God as like a harsh and devious boss or as the generous loving father that he is. If the former then we are likely to be grudging in Christian service and likely to compare ourselves legalistically to others. 

It also matters because what we believe about God should affect how we live. How do we treat others?  Are we like the cruel employer who likes to test people, to catch them out and to show our own power and control in the situation to coerce others for selfish gain or is it with the generosity and grace we have experienced? It should be the latter.