Mgr Kieran Heskin

Sacred Heart Church, Ilkley

UP to the 1930’s hiring fairs were not uncommon in this island and in Ireland. Once or twice a year poor people, seeking employment on farms, came along to the hiring fair. The tall and well-built were hired first. Realizing this, men with influenza or tuberculosis would try to present themselves as hefty and strong. They watched with heavy hearts as the employers picked out those who were younger, stronger and more healthy looking.

It was not only men who had to face the stresses and indignity of the hiring fair. Children, as young as eight, and women were also involved. Prior to hiring them, prospective employers demanded that, like horses, they parade up and down the street. They were even asked to open their mouths to have their teeth inspected.

Jesus tells a story about a vineyard owner who went to the hiring fair in his local market place in Palestine to hire workers for his vineyard. He hired his first contingent at 6.00 a.m. and agreed a wage with them for a twelve hour day. At 9.00 a.m., 12.00 noon, 3.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m. he hired further groups of workers.

At 6.00 p.m. the time for payment arrived. All groups were paid the same amount. A spokesman for the first group complained: “how can this be right, my group here have worked for twelve hours, that lot over there have only worked for one hour: can we have justice please”. The vineyard owner said to him: “my friend, I am not being unjust to you; did we not agree on one denarius? Take your earnings and go. I choose to pay the last-comer as much as I pay you. Have I no right to do what I like with my own? Why be envious because I am generous?”

Those hired at the eleventh hour, the most fragile, desperately needed any money they could get to provide for themselves and their dependents. The vine yard owner realized this and was more than generous with them.

This is a parable that encourages us to imitate the vineyard owner who, in Jesus’ story, is God himself, by being generous and sensitive to human poverty and human weakness wherever we encounter it.