The lectionary is presently working through chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, which is a compendium of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was the Parable of the Wheat and Tares (Matthew 13:24-30 plus the allegorical interpretation of the parable in 13:36-43).
The one traditional hymn that is closely based on this parable is Henry Alford’s ‘Come, ye thankful people come’. This is traditionally sung at harvest festivals, but as critics of the hymn have pointed out, “only the first verse is an expression of thanksgiving; the rest is a homily on certain biblical texts on the theme of the last judgement.” (Companion to Hymns and Psalms p.227)
Although John Telford (The Methodist Hymn-Book Illustrated) could suggest in 1934 “no harvest festival seems complete without it”, I am not so certain this is true today, with the availability of a range of modern harvest hymns on themes such as thanksgiving, stewardship, justice and the care of God’s creation. On the other hand the first verse makes it seem inappropriate for use outside harvest festivals.
My solution is quite simple: omit the first verse. The remainder of the hymn works very well without it and makes it more suitable for general use. We sang it as the last hymn at Archway on Sunday. In preference to the traditional version published in Hymns and Psalms I opted for the modernised version by the Jubilate Group found in Complete Mission Praise. Generally I am not a great fan of modernised hymns, but I think this version works very well. For example, ‘wheat and tares’ becomes ‘wheat and weeds’, bringing the hymn in line with most modern versions of the Bible.
One of the concerns I have with Jubilate is that they bring traditional hymns back into copyright. For this reason, I will only reproduce here the first quatrain as we sang it on Sunday. If you want to find the traditional version click this link, which also has biographical information on the author.
All the world is God’s own field,
harvests for his praise to yield;
wheat and weeds together sown
here for joy or sorrow grown…
Henry Alford (1810-71) alt. Jubilate Group