Scripture Reading: Matthew 19:1-30, Matthew 20:1-34, Deuteronomy 6:4, 2 Peter 3:10-13
I am very hopeful that my one-day husband’s last name will begin with a letter in the first half of the alphabet. You see, while I love my last name with my whole heart, it begins with a “W,” which means the line for almost anything ends with me.
During college graduation, I imagine that my friends whose last names fall at the beginning of the alphabet —Austin, Brock, and Chapman—were all halfway through their family celebration dinners before it was my turn to walk across the stage. I have very big ideas about what it would mean to be first in line.
Getting ahead is the name of the human game. We want nothing more than to be picked first for the kickball team, secure the best seats at the movie theater, win the affection of our coworkers, achieve financial success, and ensure our security and worth at every turn.
So in Matthew 19, when Jesus says, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v. 30), it may be our first instinct to picture a world where the underdog wins the game of getting ahead—the least athletic kid gets picked first for kickball, and those without savings accounts win the lottery. This is the illustration Jesus gives us, but its main purpose is to point to something even greater: His own measure of success.
God’s goal isn’t helping us to get ahead—it’s helping us get to Him. His redemption does not work within the constraints of the world’s standards, but within the bounds of eternity.
In the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20, the workers hired at the beginning of the day are angry by the end of it. They are complaining because the other workers—hired hands just as they were—had done nothing, yet had been made equal to them. None of the workers were underpaid or overworked. Some of them had just experienced “undeserved” kindness, leaving others to feel less superior.
At least, that’s how it looks from our perspective. But these aren’t just rules and concepts Jesus wants us to unlearn from the ways of the world. Christ is showing us that His kingdom is wholly better. In it, we will be fully loved by Him, forever united. This is the message that all of Jesus’ teachings in these passages point to: unity over divorce, children inheriting the kingdom, poor over rich, last before first. Jesus came to serve the undeserving with kindness; this is the heart of God’s economy.
As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
Knowing all our earthly measures are off, let us look to Him, for we are worse and He is better than we could ever guess. May our deepest goal and desire be to find ourselves not first or last, but close to Him. Amen.