Proximity: The real “First” & “Last”

Like most of my posts in this blog,  I challenge the status quo. I question existing paradigms. I evaluate present definitions. I don’t do this out of rebellion. I do it because I’m hungry and I am always tenaciously seeking to get at the thing behind the thing behind the thing.

When it comes to religion, church politics, and biblical teaching I feel this is more necessary than ever before. Too much of our modern world is soaked in ideas and beliefs that don’t seem to fit within a good biblical reading of the texts.  I feel so much more can be said and all too often its not.

My case in point:  The parable of the laborers in the vineyard in Matthew 20.

Too often this is tweaked as a story depicting how people can get into heaven in the 9th inning of their life, and that their salvation is as valid as those who fought the faith all during their life. This may be true, but is this the essence of the passage?

The parable actually begins in the last verse of ch. 19 where Jesus uses bookends of 19:30 and 20:16 “The last will be first and the first last.”

The story depicts a master who is hiring servants to work in his vineyard. Each hour he goes out and hires more until the last hour of the day. When time for payment comes, he starts with those who were hired last. He gives them a full days wage. Those who started early were expecting then much much more than that payment, and to their surprise they also got the full days wage. Needless to say, they were ticked.

Jesus doesn’t say much other than to review the terms of their employment and tell them to take their check and go cash it. He tells them that they are not to begrudge him of his generosity.

But how much more is there in this story? A lot.

Remember this is a parable about the Kingdom or a world under new management. This is a tool to teach us about how things are different in a world where Godly people are running things because of the influence of Christ.  This is story about how people are to recognize the New World.

I believe Jesus is explaining a very important aspect of the Kingdom. He is showing that the Kingdom is presently at hand, and yet still coming into completion. It is a city that is being built you could say.  The point that this parable exposes so beautifully is our relationship to its PROXIMITY.

You see, those that are farthest away in proximity to the Kingdoms full revelation are those that have the highest expectations and consequently the greatest disappointment over how it works.  Those that are closest in proximity to its full revelation are most delighted because it is most like their present understanding of things. There is less of a change to accept.

Now applying this to modern life, we can see that the more traditional a person is, those who are most stuck in the old paradigms of relating to God, are those who will have the greatest difficulty with the influence of the new Kingdom and its presence in the world.  These are the sincere fundamentalist who simply cannot accept an inclusive kingdom that is actually here on earth. For them, they are expecting to be jettisoned out of this world into the next one. They hold to more mystical ideas, and traditional ideals. Therefore, the arrival of the kingdom of Heaven here on earth seems somehow wrong or flawed.

Modern people who grasp nuances of the Kingdom and who have not abandoned the ideas of the past but have understood them in fresh ways, are more capable of seeing the Kingdom of God aligning quite nicely with aspects of the world today. Yes they can see there is yet much work to do, but they are excited about the inclusive nature and welcoming invitation that it offers to all the “last hour” people.

Just like in the parable, the first hour workers resent the last hour workers. The new ideas are not welcomed by the traditionalist because they simply don’t meet with expectations. Whereas the old ideas of the first hour workers are incorporated into those of the last hour workers without all the expectations.

In the end, God brings all workers into the kingdom. He is generous enough to bring the traditionalist as well as the modern person. There is certainly a lot we can glean from this passage.

I hope with this perspective, you can now take your understanding and widen it a bit more. Our world needs it because far too many traditional beliefs are veiling the exposure of the beautiful promised kingdom.