*** This hymn re-tells the parable of the Labourers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20.1-16. The music, conceived as an Irish jig, was written shortly after visiting friends in RAMELTON, County Donegal.
Here the story is told by one of the longest-serving workers who, having first felt annoyed with the employer, is surprised and overcome by the grace that comes from heaven.I-took-the-work-you-offered
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard is one of Jesus’ most controversial parables. It appears to show that God doesn’t care about pay differentials based upon the number of hours worked. It sounds like a charter for employers who favour individual contracts rather than pay everyone at the same rate according to the amount of work of they have done.
In this hymn it is one of the longest serving workers who tells the story. He had worked all day in the vineyard, and he never doubted that the owner would pay him the full rate for his day’s work. His problem was that the last people to join the workforce were paid the same as him, even though they had worked for only one hour. He protested that that wasn’t right, but he could nothing to change the owner’s mind.
But that is only the background to the story he has to tell, the necessary detail to enable us to understand what he really wants to say. For something has happened to this worker. Having been frustrated and disgruntled, he begins to overflow with gratitude and compassion. He offers no explanation of what happened; he can only report that it did. He has his theory – that it was the saving power of God that made the difference – but he would find it easier to teach someone to do his job than to explain how that power works and what it is that makes it saving.
Looking at this worker, we see someone who feels secure, not just in his job, but in life. Having once felt at the mercy of whoever held the moneybags, he knows that no amount of money could make him feel as rich as he does now. The best of it is, he had no idea that he was going to be rewarded with such riches; what he calls the highest love that’s given. And, from being someone who always looked out for himself before anyone else, all he wants now is to share his good fortune. That anyone should not be as richly blessed in love as he is makes no sense to him.
This hymn is not in the usual style for a church hymn. It would be easier to think of it as a song on a Christian subject. But perhaps we can stretch the definition of a hymn to include any song that reflects the truth of God’s love and that we would be happy to have God overhear.
The music is meant to be in the style of an Irish jig, to catch the unexpected character of the worker’s story. Probably the church organ would be the least suitable instrument to accompany the singing, and an Irish-type band the most suitable. Piano, bass guitar, and snare drum would fit happily between these extremes.