“So the last will be first, and the first last.” ~ Matthew 20:16
The book of Matthew recounts Jesus teaching a lot about a Kingdom. It’s a place where there is a new set of rules.
Life in the ancient world was harsh. It was primitive by our modern standards and lacked many of the innovations that we have today. While poverty still exists, it is far less prevalent today than it was back then. The likelihood of going hungry, being oppressed, or living in some form of suffering was much higher then.
So you can imagine what it would be like to be in poverty, or to be oppressed or to suffer and then hear a teacher talk about a new kingdom where the present rules don’t apply. A “now but not yet “kingdom that is this world.
A place where things are reversed. A place where paradox makes more sense than it does right now.
One of the many illustrations of this Kingdom was a story of hired workers. Some were hired in the morning and worked all day, some were hired mid-day and worked half a day, while others were hired at the end of the day and only worked a little bit.
The story turns on its heels when the master divides out the wages. To everyone’s astonishment he gives every worker the same wage.
Of course those hired at the end of the day were thrilled, and those at hired in morning were most disappointed.
This leads me to conclude that this is teaching us something about proximity.
Thus the people who enter the kingdom first, are most distant from what it will look like when it is completed. Those who come last, whose paradigms most align with the kingdom recognize it and celebrate it far more.
This depicts the many divisions and cultural issues of our day. Those who are stuck in the old ideas about what the kingdom of God is all about, are most likely those who are least happy about any changes from what it presently is. Ideas that sound soft or easy for newcomers are rejected because they just don’t have skin in the game.
Of course those who are entering now are most excited about the possibilities and the changes that are being made in the world. They are happy to move away from old ideas that caused so many to burden during the heat of the day.
See how the two sides emerge so easily? Conservative. Liberal. Progressive. Traditional. Change averse. Pro change.
The take home is that this Kingdom (the Kingdom of God) that Christ is initiating is one that starts small and gets bigger. It is here now and will remain here, its not an evacuation strategy, and its one where the long laborers and the short laborers will be gifted with equal generosity.
All comers are benefactors. Our efforts, while important, are not as important as the inclusive generosity that defines the new world. It is not a meritocracy. We all simply do our part, big or small. All are included, valued, and equally rewarded. Rising to the top means, first serving at the bottom. Becoming great means first becoming nothing. In order to gain more, we must let go more.
Open hands, not closed fists.
The beauty for us today is the same as for those back then. We can possess this kingdom today. While it isn’t complete, it is still being written by each of us each day.
The greater proximity (consciousness) we are to its completion, the more comfortable we are with it’s unique set of rules. The greater distance (lower consciousness) we are to this kingdom, the more likely we will operate within systems that employ fear, control, shame, guilt, and other external measures in order to determine another persons worth, value, status in the system. Those who have power in the “first” way of doing things, will be those who are most resistant to the kingdom, because they know they will be “last” in the new system.
It was that way for the religious people back in Jesus day, and it is the same for the religious today.
The first will be last. Those who “get it” are the first to enter.