A modern re-telling of the parable of the vineyard workers.
‘No one!’ exclaimed the foreman ‘there must be someone available.’ ‘No one on our books that doesn’t already have work for today.’ The agent said. ‘The old abandoned school, at the end of Castle Street, has a load of foreigners sleeping there. Maybe they’d be glad of a day’s work’.
Ten minutes later a suspicious Pole opened the door a crack to find the foreman standing outside. ‘I’m looking for men to pick fruit, strawberries. I need it done today.’ In faltering English the face through the crack in the door said ‘Wait, I get Aleksander. He speak good English.’
After a brief chat with the foreman and a longer one with his countrymen, Alexander with ten Polish men was on his way to the fruit farm. He had negotiated a wage of £80.00 per man for the day’s work, with breakfast and lunch supplied.
At the morning break, the farmer was discussing the picking progress with his foreman, who was telling his employer ‘They’re good hard workers but I think we’ll need more to finish the strawberry harvest today.’ ‘You’d better get back into town then, see who else you can rustle up.’
‘What did you agree to pay this lot?’ The farmer asked his foreman, when he arrived back with another van full of pickers. ‘They said they’ll take whatever’s going. They just need to work.’ ‘Get ’em started then, and make sure they don’t put so much in a basket that the bottom fruit gets squashed. The foreman gave brief instructions and set the latest gang to work.
Shortly after lunch, it was clear that still not all the fruit could be picked in time for the wholesaler’s collection time. The foremen was again despatched to see if he could find more pickers.
‘These are the last.’ the foreman informed his boss on his return. ‘If we can’t get the crop in with these, the rest will be wasted.’ It’ll have to do. Get ’em started they can learn on the job. We’ll have to take a chance on the spoils.’
‘We made it guv.’ the foreman informed the farmer as the sun began to sink. ‘And there aren’t that many spoils either.’ ‘Give the a drink, then send them up to the office to collect their pay.’ the farmer replied.
Aleksander, who spoke for the first group to be taken on at the farm, was the first to emerge from the farmer’s office with a handful of cash. One by one a minute or two apart, the rest emerged each with their £80.00, all paid in cash. Then, when the early workers had all been paid and those taken on later in the day began to come out holding their wages. Those first to be paid soon noticed that the later arrivals were also being paid the same amount, £80.00 for their work even though they hadn’t worked a full day.
‘What is this?’ Alexander angrily asked the farmer. ‘We worked a full day for our money. You gave them the same for a few hours.’ ‘I gave you just what you asked for when you signed on. We had a contract.’ the farmer replied. ‘Those other men were so glad of the work they just took it on trust they’d be fairly paid.’
When Jesus told the parable, it was to illustrate how the last shall be first. I think there is another, perhaps unintended, point illustrated too.
I have written previously about contract and covenant. In the parable the men who agreed terms, a contract, got exactly what they bargained for. Those who worked on trust, to my mind a covenant, were treated generously.