With God, the first is often not the first

The Standard October 6, 2022

One of the few words I actually remember from my earlier days in school is “promigeniture.” As a young girl, and the middle child between two brothers, the idea that the eldest son used to inherit all of the family’s real estate hardly seemed right. While watching parts of the state funeral and committal for Queen Elizabeth II it was difficult not to notice which of her children and grandchildren were in more prominent places in each procession.

In Jane Austen novels such as “Pride and Prejudice” or “Sense and Sensibility,” financial difficulties befall families which have only daughters and no sons. There is the foreboding knowledge that eventually these daughters and widows will be forced to leave what had been their homes. While such practices of succession hardly engender feelings of harmony or warmth within families, they were the norm in many societies for centuries. Thankfully, in most countries today, birth order and gender do not determine inheritance.

Although in Old Testament times in Israel the firstborn son normally would receive the father’s blessing, God often chose the younger brother to accomplish his sovereign plan. Cain was older than Abel, yet Cain rebelled against God. Ishmael was born before Isaac, yet God chose to use Isaac’s line for the plan of redemption. Esau came out before his twin brother Jacob, yet God made Jacob the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn, yet his younger brother Joseph eventually brought the entire family to Egypt to be saved from widespread famine. Manasseh was Joseph’s first son, yet Ephraim the younger son was blessed by his grandfather and given greater precedence.

Societal norms are not the standard for God. Whatever our traditions or practices might be as to whom should receive the most benefit or honor or attention, they often do not jibe with God’s priorities. Jesus concluded the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16) After the mother of James and John requested that her boys sit at the right and left of Jesus in God’s kingdom, the Teacher called the disciples together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28) “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35)

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