So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Much of the conflict between Jesus and the religious leadership in the last week or so of his earthly ministry centered around his words regarding the people of Israel. When Jesus entered into Jerusalem, he should have found a people who were repentant, who had changed their ways, who had prepared for the arrival of the messiah. Instead, he found price-gouging in the temple and religious leadership that told people to be quiet when they spoke Jesus’ praise. And when Jesus began to speak of the notion that the kingdom of God would soon be for all people of any nationality who will come to him, this was more than his religious opponents could bear.
In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a very familiar story. It all involves a landowner who hires workers for his field, some at the beginning of the day, some at the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hours. When the workers came to receive their pay, it turns out that all who came received the same day’s wages. Some complained, but all were truly blessed. The owner declared it to be his right to do with his money has he pleased.
In context, this is a parable about the kingdom of God. The people of Israel believed themselves to be of a higher rank than the unclean, gentile nations. But God was about to turn the world upside-down. Because the Israelites were refusing to receive their Messiah, God, in accord with the mystery of his eternal plan, was about to build his kingdom in Christ to include all nations. And no matter how unhappy this made the Israelites, God has every right to bless all the nations with his grace as much as he wants.
Assuming you, dear reader, are a gentile by birth, this should give you great hope. The last will be first, and the first last. Jesus wants you to know that your place in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with your nationality. Your place in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with your skin color. Your place in God’s kingdom has nothing to do with the century in which you were born. Your place in God’s kingdom has to do with one thing only: your position as either in Christ or not. If you are in Christ, you are in god’s kingdom and will receive all the rewards of a kingdom citizen. If you do not know Christ, regardless of any rank you think you have, you will have none of God’s eternal rewards.
Some live in places where they can really get what feels like a lot done for the kingdom. Some live in places where doing anything that honors God is a major risk. Some live in places where worship is easy. Some live in places where worship is ridiculed. Some live during a time of great spiritual peace. Some live in times of great spiritual upheaval. Some live in their land’s cultural majority. Some live as cultural minorities. Praise God that, in Christ, last and first and first and last are all the same. God’s grace is for all who will run to Jesus for life and mercy.