The last will be first

I distinctly remember sitting in church as a child asking my mother to explain a most perplexing New Testament passage used for the homily. For the life of me I could not understand Jesus’ parable which said the kingdom of heaven was like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He promised to pay them a denarius for the day’s work. At different times throughout the morning and afternoon he found and hired more workers. Finally he gathered the men to pay them.

 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:9-16)

This concept, like denying ourselves or loving our enemies, goes against our natural tendencies. Most of us can relate to the workers hired first.  The actions of the landowner simply do not sound fair. When our children would complain “It’s not fair!” I often responded, “Do you know what else isn’t fair? It’s not fair that we have food and many other people don’t. It is not fair that we live in a mostly safe neighborhood and many others do not.”

Why are we so quick to become disgruntled when people get good things they do not deserve but forget that God has bestowed upon us blessing after blessing that we do not deserve? It is easy for us to glamorize sending donations to projects in far-away countries, assuming that all the recipients are worthy, good people. When we see some who take advantage of kindness or generosity in our communities we can become cynical, but God is kind and generous and if we want to be part of the kingdom of heaven we must be too.

I love the For King and Country song “Fix My Eyes.”  The singer describes what he would change if he could go back to his younger years.  “Here’s what I’d do differently / I’d love like I’m not scared / Give when it’s not fair / Live life for another / Take time for a brother / Fight for the weak ones / Speak out for freedom / Find faith in the battle / Stand tall but above it all / Fix my eyes on You.” Do you know many Christians who give when it’s not fair? They intrigue and inspire me. I’m glad to say I’m married to one of them.

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