I have a deep love for the English language and world history; so it goes that I would love the poetry of Czesław Miłosz. Born in Lithuania, he identified himself as a Polish poet. He died in Kraków, Poland in 2004 with 93 years of experience behind him, including residing in Warsaw during World War II under Nazi Germany’s control, serving as a cultural attaché for the Polish government in both Paris and Washington, becoming a professor of Polish literature at Berkeley. He is honored at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial as one of the “righteous among nations.”
I first heard of Miłosz in high school, where a friend (who happened to be a foreign exchange student from Bydgoszcz, Poland) introduced me to him. I first read “A Song of the End of the World,” and have loved his poetry every since. His anthologies are hard to find – I only have been able to purchase one!
Reading my only copy of Miłosz, I came upon a poem entitled “Late Ripeness.” The final stanza struck me, and I read it two, three, four times over.
I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.
First it hit me because I feel like I didn’t really know I was headed to the mission field like everyone else around me knew I would be. I feel like friends and family keep informing me that, “oh, we knew you were going for ages!”
Thanks for cluing me in, ya’ll.
But then I got to thinking about vineyards. I grew up spending summers in the Finger Lakes region on New York, which is known for her vineyards. The hillsides are covered with the vines, and prove to be a real blessing to the region. Grapes are finicky though – they only grow well in sandy soil with the right moisture content, amount of sun, so on and so forth. They require a great amount of care and tending from a faithful and diligent gardener who keeps weeds and pests from injuring or destroying the vines. They must prune and graft the vines to keep them strong and hardy, and from stretching themselves to the point of becoming too weak to hold clusters of grapes. The vines are carefully trained to wend their way up trellises so that they might become strong and bear fruit.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus taught his disciples using the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Early in the morning, perhaps at dawn, the owner of the vineyard went into the city to find laborers to work in the vineyard. He negotiated a wage for the days labor, and the men went on their way to work among the vines. The owner returned to the marketplace to find laborers four more times throughout the day. As the day waned, and the sun set, the men gathered to receive their pay for the work they had done.
Imagine their surprise when those who were called to work at the end of the day received the same amount as those who had begun as the sun rose. Elder Holland, in his 2012 address, “The Laborers in the Vineyard,” describes the scene best:
These last and most discouraged of laborers, hearing only that they will be treated fairly, accept work without even knowing the wage, knowing that anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days.
It is with that reading of the story that I feel the grumbling of the first laborers must be seen. As the householder in the parable tells them (and I paraphrase only slightly): “My friends, I am not being unfair to you. You agreed on the wage for the day, a good wage. You were very happy to get the work, and I am very happy with the way you served. You are paid in full. Take your pay and enjoy the blessing. As for the others, surely I am free to do what I like with my own money.” Then this piercing question to anyone then or now who needs to hear it: “Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?”
What an amazing display of grace from the owner of the vineyard! Although some laborers came late to the work, they received the same blessings as those who were fortunate enough to have begun with the rising of the sun.
The Gospel is like that – those who find the Gospel later in life still ultimately receive the same blessings as those who were born and raised in the Church. In a recent stake conference broadcast from Salt Lake to stakes in the New England area, Elder L. Tom Perry referenced this parable, and with a resounding voice (he was a marine, remember? He knows how to boom – oorahh!) said, “it is NEVER too late.”
It is never too late to come to the Gospel, to embrace the truth, to attain a remission of sins, and to work towards Zion. Whether you have been baptized at 8 or 80, you have no lesser amount of blessings because of when you came to the fold. Everyone has the opportunity to receive the same blessings from Heavenly Father – none are withheld because one came late. This is such a wonderful comfort to me! No matter when you come to the Gospel, you have just as much of a right to the atonement of Jesus Christ as anyone else – no reservations, no holds, nothing. You can have all of it.
Being blessed with the knowledge of the Gospel, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and this restored Church, we are given certain responsibilities within the vineyard as laborers. We are called to work, to gather, and to tend.
We are called to wade into the thorns to rescue the lost, to strengthen the weak, and to bring good news to those who thought that all was without hope. We are called to be compassionate, to bear testimony, and most of all, to share the plan of salvation with those whom we meet. We are asked to work in the vineyards of Israel, to gather in the harvest in preparation for the close of day, and to strengthen and find other laborers.
It was never promised that it would be easy, only that it is one of the most important works in the kingdom, one that it is a privilege to partake of.
We are all ultimately laborers in the vineyard, no matter when we arrived at the gate, and we are blessed to have been chosen to bring in a bountiful harvest.