Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The Burden of Work and the Heat of the Day

Jesus told a story once about a landowner who employed a bunch of guys to work in his vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). These men were all employed at different points throughout the day but they were all paid the same, a denarius, a living wage. It's a story of compassion and generosity and it moves me. 

I wrote a poem about it from the perspective of one of the last ones to be hired at the end of the day. As you read this, don't imagine my voice in your head, imagine someone elses', a young middle eastern family man, that'll do it.

My father was a hard worker, he was.
He had to be, with a wife and six children to provide for.
Seven mouths to feed, plus his own.
Four boys with feet, now fully grown.
From sunrise to sunset he was out in the fields,
bearing the burden of the work and the heat of the day.
Bringing home food for the family with what he was paid.

I am a hard worker. I am,
when there is work to be had.
Now I am a man, with a wife and these three little lambs.
“Abba!” they call as I walk up the lane.
I have had no work for days.
My hands are empty and my head hangs in shame.
I have had no work, but who is to blame?
I have gone out each day to the marketplace.
Every day I go to that street corner looking for work.
Every day I stand there, eager and alert.

In the heat of this day I have borne the burden of no work.
No money for food, no money for shoes.
Four mouths to feed, plus my own.
“Amma,” I hear my children groan.
All night they moan.
All night I worry, where might I find money for bread?
Maybe I’ll go up to the Temple and beg.

But I am a hard worker, I am.
So I rise early again.
I get dressed and wash my face
and head back toward the marketplace.
I wait at that old familiar corner,
the place where opportunity and occupation meet, 
where the landowners and our livelihoods intersect,
where I wait with all the other men who are just like me.

We wait and he arrives,
he needs workers to tend to his vines.
“A denarius,” he says, “for a day’s work.”
“A denarius?! That’s excellent pay.”
But I am at the back of the gathering crowd.
I have been here since first light,
yet now I am out of this landowners sight.

I am a hard worker. I am,
when there’s work to be had.
I have stood here all day, ready for work
I have stood here all day and watched the foremen come.
I have stood here all day, and I’m not the only one.

That first landowner came back at the third hour, the sixth and the ninth,
“Come, work,” he said, “and I’ll pay you what it right.”
Somehow, in all the fuss and kerfuffle
we were not chosen so we stand here and shuffle our feet.
Another day spent with no purpose, no point.
What have I earned but more humiliation?
I am eager to work, this is exasperating!

I am a hard worker, I am!
What more can a man do?!
I have been standing here since first light,
I stand here though it soon will be night. 
We wait, and he arrives yet again.
“Why have you been standing here all day long?”
“Because no one has hired us,” we say, forlorn.
“You also go,” the landowner says,
“go, work in my vineyard,” he declares.

I am a hard worker, I am,
even if just for one hour.
There is no talk of money nor work for the morrow,
but no matter.
I may return to my family with empty hands,
but today, with these hands, I have worked the land.

Evening comes and the foreman calls.
Again we men gather around.
Those who have been working all day await their pay.
We, who were last, have been waiting all day.
Now, strangely, we are called first,
likely to be sent away, with nothing.
We rise and ready ourselves for the journey home.
We stand before them; the landowner and the foreman.
Strange things are happening to us,
for an hours’ work we each receive a denarius.
A denarius, that’s more than we deserve, that’s more than we’ve earned.

I am a hard worker.
I am what I am.
But what about this man?
Has there ever been one so generous?
He has esteemed and honoured us.
In his compassion he has noticed our need,
we have wives to care for and children to feed.
We were born to work, born to serve,
with a need for purpose and a sense of worth.
Today, we have been given more than a denarius,
we have been given a way to live.

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