There’s a parable that Jesus tells in the Christian gospel of Matthew. For years it left me troubled. This is my summary of that parable, which Jesus said illustrated what the Kingdom of God is like. (NB. One way of thinking about “Kingdom of God” is “When all things are well, when all things are very well.”)
A landowner went out at dawn and found workers to work in his vineyard. He offered to pay them a denarius for the day’s work, and by all accounts that was a fair wage. They agreed. But, this landowner went back out at 9 AM, at noon, at 3 PM and at 5 PM, and each time, he found workers whom no one had hired. He asked them why they were standing about, and they said–because we can’t find work. Each time, he said–come to my vineyard. I have work for you. At 6 PM, he told his foreman to pay the workers one denarius each, beginning with those who came last and ending with those who were first hired. By the time the first to be hired were paid, they were grumbling. They had expected to get more since those who came last got the same denarius they were promised. The landowner heard them and said to them: why are you envious because I am generous with my own money?
There is a pattern in this story. It’s a pattern that has taken me a long time to understand. The pattern is this: see; notice; and witness. See. Notice. Witness.
These three words, all of which have something to do with our capacity for perception, describe what I think happens in us when the energy of equity and justice begins to flow through us.
We see or otherwise perceive someone or something.
We begin to notice things about that someone or something that we had never noticed before.
And we feel compelled to act–to give witness to what we have seen and noticed.
The landowner in the parable saw some people who were looking for work, and he hired them for the day.
He noticed that there were more people all through the day, through no fault of their own, looking for work. And so he hired them, too.
At the end of the day, he decided that based on what he had seen, their circumstances all called for living wages, and they had all been willing to work. They were all beginning the struggle for wages at different beginning places. He took action. He chose to pay them all a day’s wage. Why not? He could. They needed it. And so he did.
He saw. He noticed. He gave witness.