One of the more popular promises of Jesus is found in Matthew 20:16:
So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
I think its universal popularity comes from the fact that we all see ourselves as a victim of sorts. “So-and-so ignored me today, but someday, the last shall be first!” There’s probably some truth to this, but if I’m being honest, I have to admit that by nearly every world standard, I am not last, but first.
I am a white, middle-class, healthy, able-bodied female born in the United States to two parents who paid for my college education. I have a lot of privilege.
When I think about this promise in light of eternity, part of my soul gets really excited. I imagine a woman sold into sexual slavery brought before the throne of God to stand, happily and proudly, while all of heaven cheers for her. I imagine the orphans in Mongolia getting a standing ovation, or the men and women strugging in the slums of India being showered with riches. And that is so great.
But another part of me wonders: what about me?
I’m not proud of that part, but I won’t deny that I want to be acknowledged. I want to be loved and cheered for and admired. And I don’t really think that is a bad thing to desire. If I’m willing to push others aside for attention (and sometimes I am), then yes, that’s a problem. But I think humans are designed to crave love, because this is what draws us to God and to other people. But I can’t help but wonder: if I am first in this world and therefore last in eternity, will I forever be on the sidelines and never on the winners’ podium?
It hit me today that in a line of people, when the first person moves to the back of the line, everyone else moves one step closer to the front. And eventually, after several billion people get to be first in line, those who moved to the back are once again in the front. Maybe that is what is being pictured here. The dichotomy of abundance and poverty will not continue in a massive situational flip. After all, that doesn’t really make sense in God’s plan when he is so infatuated with the idea of blessing perpetuating more blessing.
Instead, it seems perfectly in line with God’s character (which he imparts to us), for those who are first to run to the back of the line so that someone else can be showered with attention and love. And then that person, because they want everyone else to experience this wonderful feeling, will run to the back so it is the next person’s turn. When I think of eternity, I imagine we’ll be playing this ridiculous game where we run to the back of the line, eager to let each other experience the feeling of being first.
This is not unlike our job here on earth. Those with privilege (me) are not given blessings in order to hoard them. Instead, I ought to use my health and wealth to pass on my privilege to others, so that they, in turn, can pass it on.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The first will be last, the last will be first…and then it switches, over and over again, for eternity.
(image from Joyxli)