There were once two grape growers, who each had plots handed down to them from their fathers. One of the farmers was a diligent, wise man, who followed the teachings of his father and was prosperous with his craft. The other man heeded little the gifts of his father, and was prone to vice and laziness.
It happened that one year, as the winter was receding, the lazy farmer neglected to prune the old growth from his vines. The wise farmer, who went out to the fields with his children to prune the vines, noticed this and grumbled to himself, pitying his neighbor in his heart, but not going to his house to correct him. The lazy farmer waited too long, and new shoots sprang from the old canes. This was bad news, for it meant that his harvest would be less than it otherwise would be; the wise farmer’s vines were already thriving when his neighbor’s vines were just beginning their year’s growth.
A few days later, a plague of locusts swept through the region, destroying the vines of all the vintners and grape growers for miles around. The wise farmer was distraught, because he knew that because of the timing of the insect plague he would have no harvest, and since his family had grown grapes for generations, he held no auxiliary crops.
The vines of the lazy farmer, however, were little touched because of their overgrowth. Soon they were heavy with grapes, and though the harvest was less than full, it was extremely profitable for the lazy farmer. No other farms for many miles had been able to bring much to harvest, and for that entire season grapes were exceedingly rare and valuable.
In the late summer the lazy (but lucky) farmer went to his neighbor and paid him a large share of his profits.
“Why are you giving this to me?” the wise farmer asked him.
“Because you need it,” the lazy farmer said. “Please don’t refuse my gift.”
Due to the generosity of the lazy farmer, the wise farmer and his family were able to eat well over the winter and prepare for the next year.
When spring came the next year, the wise farmer once again went out and pruned his vines. Once again, his neighbor did not. This time, the wise farmer went to his neighbor and said to him, “It’s time to cut your vines.”
“I’ll do it later,” was what the lazy farmer said, but he neglected his work again over the next few days and pruned the vines late.
There was no plague that year, and the wise farmer had a rich and profitable harvest. The lazy farmer’s crop was ruined, for he had neglected to totally complete each step of the growing process. He frequently forgot to water the vines. He forgot to net them, and they were eaten by birds. He neglected to trim the leaves to allow the bunches to ripen in the sun.
The wise farmer went to his neighbor and gave him a large portion of the profits from his crop. When he returned home, his wife rebuked him.
“Why did you give our lazy neighbor so much of our money? It’s his own fault he had no grapes to sell.”
“He gave to us when we needed it,” the wise farmer replied. “Or did you marry a man who ignores his debts?”
“He only made money last year by dumb luck.”
“Why does that matter? A debt is not cancelled merely because the lender acquired the money to lend with dice,” was all the wise farmer had to say.
The next year came. Once again, the lazy farmer neglected his work, ignoring what his neighbor told him, and had a poor crop, while the wise farmer worked diligently and executed each step at the right time, and had a large, valuable crop. The wise farmer went once again to his neighbor and gave him a large portion of the profits. His wife this time was very displeased.
“We paid back our debts,” she said to her husband. “Why did you give him money we did not owe him?”
The wise farmer said, “I gave him our money because he gave us his money when he owed us nothing.”
“But we only needed his money because of bad fortune, not bad behavior.”
“That doesn’t change the nature of the gesture, and it does not negate need,” the wise farmer said.
Another year passed, and once again the lazy farmer failed to produce a crop of value, while the wise farmer increased his wealth and savings substantially.
His wife approached him at the harvest and said, “You cannot say that our lazy neighbor deserves any of our money now. We have paid him back, and now he owes us.”
“Very true, he does owe us,” the wise farmer said, but he went over to the lazy farmer anyway and gave him money so that he could be comfortable through the winter.
This time, the wise farmer’s wife was furious. “Why did you give him even more of our money? Now he will owe us twice and we will likely never get paid back.”
The wise farmer replied, “Well now at last I have exceeded his original gesture, and I can say that we are truly charitable.”
Yet another year passed, and things proceeded as before, with the wise farmer gaining wealth and the lazy farmer failing to produce much of value. Before his wife could stop him, the wise farmer went and gave money to the lazy one. When his wife asked him “why,” he said, “Because I failed to correct his behavior and help him with his harvest.”
“That is not your responsibility,” his wife replied.
“But it was my opportunity,” the wise farmer said. “I saw years ago, before he owed us anything, that he did not prune his vines in time, but I did not go over to him and tell him it was time. I didn’t show him how to do it. After that year, I didn’t pull him outside and make him do it.”
“If you had spent your time on that, there would have been no harvest for anyone. And since then you’ve tried everything to turn him into a good farmer, but he doesn’t listen to you!”
“Why does that matter?” the wise farmer said. “You can only judge the virtue of an action before chance plays its games with outcome. We may yet be repaid.”
One more year passed, and again the lazy farmer failed to produce great value with his vines, while the wise farmer became even more wealthy. Once again, the wise farmer made up the difference with his own money.
“I don’t know why I bother asking you,” his wife said to him, “but why did you give him money this time?”
“Because I wanted to,” said the wise farmer.
His wife ceased arguing, and said, “Very well, do what you want. You have led us well this far.”
As time went on, the lazy farmer began to become infirmed. His joints ached and he could not do even his poor work. The wise farmer went to visit him.
“What shall I do?” the poor farmer said. “I cannot work, and I have no savings.”
“I will buy your vineyard from you,” the wise farmer said. “I have done well and can hire men to tend the vines for me. With the money, you can retire.”
“But I already owe you a great sum,” said the poor farmer.
“I forgive it,” said the wise farmer.
And so, it was done. When the wise farmer’s wife learned of this, she once again became angry. “Why did you do this?” she said. “He should have just given us the vineyard with the money he owed us.”
“Don’t worry about the money. We will easily make it back working two fields,” the wise farmer said.
Eventually, the poor farmer died. When this happened, the wise farmer turned the vineyard he had purchased over to the poor farmer’s son as an inheritance for him.
The wise farmer’s wife, no longer willing to rebuke her husband, said when he did this, “He was a lucky man to have a friend like you, with all that you have done for him.”
“If luck is what you want to call it,” said the wise farmer. “I was lucky to have a father who taught me well, and a good mind to hear and recall everything he said, and a good sense of time, and a good personality to negotiate a high price for my grapes, and good health throughout my life, and a great many other things, including a wife who trusts my wisdom. So yes, perhaps he was lucky to know me, but as far as luck goes, I had the lion’s share, other than one bad year, and for that year, his luck paid well. And now we have engendered good relations between our children. Our son might turn out like he did, and I would have others treat kindly with him.”
“His son might be like his father. Will you treat him as well?”
“If he turns out like his father, I will. Let us remember that our debts have already been forgiven.”