It’s probably my least favorite saying of Jesus: The last will be first and the first will be last. It just doesn’t sound fair, does it? We have a keen sense when things aren’t fair — and usually quick to point it out. When I was growing up, my mom’s form of ultimate discipline for myself and my two sisters was a good paddling. We had a paddle with made of two strips of leather sewn together over a thin, flexible piece of metal, with the ends left open to amplify that smacking sound. It was intimidating. It came with instructions burned into the leather: “Do not slap the face, the Lord has provided a better place” you know, just in case you were confused about hitting a child in the face with a leather paddle. There were a number of times where I received a paddling that I didn’t deserve. Something in the house would get broken. My mom would ask who broke it. It wasn’t me, I was the good oldest, the responsible one. It was probably one of my sisters. Neither of them would confess. So we all received a paddling — which was my mom’s way of making sure she got the right one. IT WASN’T FAIR!
The last will be first and the first will be last. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up my whole life in America and “last place” is the worst place. We only win gold medals. Greatness is measured by how many championships you’ve won. As Ricky Bobby said in Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” In life, we know that there are winners and losers and no one wants to be a loser. The fact of the matter is sometimes we lose. Sometimes it’s not our fault. Sometimes it is. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. I DON’T HAVE TO TELL YOU LIFE IS UNFAIR, DO I? You already KNOW IT. You’ve EXPERIENCED IT — school, work, relationships, health, death = UNFAIR.
The last will be first and the first will be last. This saying comes at the end of a parable Jesus tells in Matthew 20.1-16. Briefly: a vineyard owner hires workers throughout the day from early in the morning until almost quitting time to work his land. When paying time comes — he gives everyone the same wage. This angers the early workers because they figured that since they worked longest, they’d be paid more — even though they agreed to work for the wage he paid.
The vineyard owner is taken aback by the charge of “unfairness” or injustice. He asks the early workers 3 questions. The first two questions show that the vineyard owner isn’t unfair.
+Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? [YES]
+Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? [YES]
The third question reveals that the problem isn’t actually fairness, but offense over generosity.
+Or are you envious because I am generous? This question reveals the point of the parable.
The last will be first and the first shall be last. Jesus’ parable is like a Rorschach test for the soul. It’s meant to reveal some things to us about our ideas of fairness and about life. As long as we are attached to trying to balance the ledgers of life ourselves, we’ll be sorely disappointed — and angry — about the results. That’s because this life operates based on the MYTH of SCARCITY — that there’s not enough for everyone so you have to take what you can get at all costs or rise above and be better than everyone else in order to “win at life.” In this reality — people are consumed with asking the question: WHAT AM I OWED?
Jesus parable points to a greater reality — a MINDSET of GENEROSITY — the foundation which is grace (unmerited favor). The generous mindset believes, “There’s more than enough for everyone” and “We’re in this together.” In this reality, people don’t worry about their “rights” and having “power” or making sure they “protect” what they own. A person of the generous mindset is driven by the question: WHAT CAN I GIVE?
The mindset of SCARCITY asks: WHAT AM I OWED? The mindset of GENEROSITY asks: WHAT CAN I GIVE?
The last will be first and the first will be last. To which mindset do you belong — SCARCITY or GENEROSITY? Are you frustrated when others are happy or successful? Do you obsess about what you deserve? Have you often felt like a victim? Does unfairness consume you? Reject the MYTH of SCARCITY and embrace the MINDSET OF GENEROSITY. Give and you shall receive!