The First will be the Last – Matthew 20:16
“This is unfair!”
“Life is unfair!”
“This is cheating!”
These words above are the same words the workers of the vineyard declare in our parable today. The parable is all about a landowner who hired different workers at different times and paid them the same amount at the end of the day.
The workers who are hired earlier of the day, worked the whole day and there are workers who are hired almost at the end of the day and have worked for only a short time. When the end of the day came, they were all summoned by the landowner and paid the same amount. The workers who were hired earlier complained about receiving the same payment as the worker who only worked for an hour. So they called their landowner unfair, a cheater and they got very angry.
However, can we really say that the landowner is unfair? That he cheated on them? Was he being unfair to the workers he hired first? The answer is no. The landowner was absolutely not unfair because in the first place, they all agreed to work with him at that given salary. So, why did Jesus use this parable as a comparison to the kingdom of heaven? Does it mean that God is unfair? Absolutely not!
Jesus wants the disciples and us to understand the meaning when He said, “the first will be the last, and the last will be the first.” In fact, He had used this very sentence three times consecutives already in the book of Matthew because He wants to point out the importance of humility.
From the reflection about the children being the greatest of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus also mentioned this sentence because again, He wants to point out the importance of humility. First point is, humbling ourselves is one of the hardest tasks to do. Most of the time, we regard ourselves so high that we forget where everything we have come from.
We tend to bring ourselves to the high stage so people will praise us. In short, we wanted to be recognized, praised and complemented by the people who surround us. Our satisfaction can be found in people’s validation so we always seek for their approval to the point of praising ourselves, instead of giving back all the praises and glory to our God who deserves it.
Therefore, Jesus wants to teach us the importance of humbleness. He does not want us to wrongfully place our praises and gratification to ourselves but instead, He wants us to know that everything we have comes from Him. Jesus wants us to learn how to humble ourselves because through this, we will be able to see the goodness and grace of our God in our lives.
Second point is, the workers were angry not because they actually felt cheated or because of the landowner’s greed, but it was because of the owner’s grace. The attitude of the landowner showed to them was too unfathomable for them. They can accept the fact that people who only worked a little can receive such gifts.
These kinds of people are those who believe that salvation can be acquired through working hard. The concept of free and grace are too impossible for them and very unacceptable. So, in this parable Jesus has shown us the attitude of men and the attribute of God. He wants to clearly emphasize to us that whatever we do, no matter how hard we worked, we can never gain our salvation through our own strength.
When the landowner said that it is his right to decide on how to spend his money is also like God telling us that it is His decision to die on the cross and to save us, sinners, from death. Indeed, it is only because of grace that we have received this redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord. We may be the workers who are hired earlier or the workers who are hired late, we still have the same destination— heaven, enjoying our eternal life.
Lastly, the third point is, going back to the sentence Jesus was always emphasizing about the first being the last and the last being the first is to let us understand how He personally became like the sentence. He was the treasure of heaven, the greatest of all, the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords but He became the last for our sake.
Jesus was the firstborn of all creation but now, He became the least and the last of all because of our sins. He bore our sins and let God pour His wrath on Him so we will become the first. He became the last so we can become the first. He traded His life for us; He shared to us His perfect righteousness so through Him we will be called holy.
Therefore, let us all be grateful to the Lord of lords and give Him the praise and glory He truly deserves. Let us not focus our mindset on the world’s unfairness because Jesus made sure that we will receive eternal life fairly only if we will just believe in Him.
May we always be reminded to be humbled and direct our praises and gratification to our God. May we not become legalists who believe that working hard can earn us salvation, instead we must accept the fact that we are incapable and a distorted creation who badly needs God’s grace and mercy. Lastly, may we always be reminded that Jesus became the last so we can become the first because He loves us so much and He doesn’t want us to suffer.
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