Sorting through old family photographs, I came across a picture of my grandfather. He was the son of a Victorian evangelical preacher. The Bible was big in their house, with a quotation for everything. Perhaps because he was also a founder member of the Labour Party, one of my grandfather’s favourites was, “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7)
And I thought of the dockers. The men who unloaded cargo before the days of containers. Dockers were hired by the day to unload the ships. No work, no pay. The younger, fitter looking men would be chosen first. As they got older some dockers would dip their combs into a pot of black tea to darken their hair.
Two Sundays ago the Gospel reading was the parable of the Labourers in the vineyard. It begins, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire labourers for his vineyard.” He agrees a price for the day’s work. The householder goes back four times and each time hires more workers. Men who have no work and are standing idle.
The shock comes when they come to be paid at the end of the day. The householder pays them all the same. The amount agreed for a day’s pay goes to all of them, even if they only worked an hour. In the “kingdom of heaven” the labourer is of intrinsic worth and not just “worthy of his – or her – hire”.