I have fallen in love with the Anne Higgins poem “Vineyard Stories,” which I encountered in a special poetry issue of the Seminary Ridge Review. (Thanks to editor Kate Giebenhane for alerting me to it.) Higgins weaves together three of Jesus’s parables involving vineyards and then uses that richness to imagine the vineyard as a healing place for all: the liar, the rash, the jealous, the killer, those who say no before changing their minds. In this vineyard that “glistens in the evening sun” and where “the lovely macramé of green strings reaches out for the anchoring pole,” all are able to come together, like the parables, to feast upon the harvest.
In case you don’t know or can’t recall Jesus’s stories, I include them here, in the order that they appear in the poem. ”Vineyard Stories” appears after:
Matthew 21:28-32 (New International Version)
What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”
“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.
Which of the two did what his father wanted?
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.
Matthew 21:33-46 NIV)
Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said.
But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?
“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.
Matthew 20: 1-16 (NIV)
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?” “Because no one has hired us,” they answered. He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.” The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”
But he answered one of them, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
And now here’s the poem:
By Anne Higgins
One son was invited and he said yes
and he did not come.
the other one said no
and regretted it
Was that the same son
who was killed by all those
Were those farmers
who worked all day
and got the same pay
as the ones who came
at the last horn’s blow?
Did all this happen
in the same vineyard
that glistens in the evening sun
where the lovely macramé of
for the anchoring pole?
Grapes are heavy in the
Here is a place for
the liar and the rash.
Here is time to say no
and change your mind.
and the killer.