Firstly and Lastly

You may remember that mysterious verse in the Bible about how the last will be first and the first will be last. What is that supposed to mean? Which one are you now and which one are you going to be? Read on.

Jesus was first. I don’t think we could argue with that- King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator of all and Master of the Universe. Jesus was on top and then he made a startling decision to become last. He put on a skin suit and masked his glory. And he didn’t take on the image of Brad Pitt either:

“He wasn’t some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us.” Isaiah 53:2 CEV

Okay, he wasn’t pretty, but was he really last?

“He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering. No one wanted to look at him. We despised him and said, “He is a nobody!”” Isaiah 53:3 CEV

Evidently, the message Jesus was trying to send is that Kingdom strategy is to voluntarily and joyfully lay down that which makes us first for the sake of those who are last. For us living in a first-world country that would include freedom, wealth, power, education and my XBOX 360. As we “lower” ourselves like Jesus did to identify with the last we are giving them higher priority. We are aligning ourselves with God who puts them first.

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a story of those who worked all day, performed well and achieved some wealth. Then the master welcomes in some folks who are out of work to put a few hours at the end of the day and give them what they didn’t deserve, a full-day’s pay. The ones who worked all day were ticked. The story concludes with this line:

“Jesus then said, “So it is. Everyone who is now last will be first, and everyone who is first will be last.”” Matthew 20:16 CEV

Jesus helps us who are first to become like him by welcoming us to follow his example. Jesus helps those who are last by elevating their status. He welcomes those who are on the bottom rung, those who are chosen last at kickball, the uneducated working for minimum wage or those who aren’t as ambitious as us to receive the same benefits as those who “did everything right.” They might even get an XBOX 360. That’s fine, as long as it’s not mine. I’m being facetious.

A lot of us are concerned with fairness and get stuck there. Some of the workers in the story may have been privileged to have the connections to get the better job. Maybe they got the work because their family had power and influence so they got first pick of the jobs ahead of those who were more qualified and skilled. Maybe the unemployed were being left out because they were of a lower class. The unemployed in the story may have been lazy and unmotivated, deserving to be out of work. Maybe they felt entitled to a full day’s pay even though they didn’t earn it. We’ll never know because Jesus doesn’t go into any of those scenarios with his story. He’s not concerned with fairness. He is concerned with generosity and grace.

If Jesus is the master in the story, generously giving up his wealth to those who didn’t deserve it, what do you think he is asking you and I to do? He’s not just asking us to dig into our checkbook, he actually wants us to associate with and enter into the world of the last.

“And if you give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday.” Isaiah 58:10 NASB

If we are the last, we can be encouraged to know that He puts us first. If we are first, we can have confidence that he wants to follow him downward into humility and Christlikeness.

My son Corban worked hard to serve people with dignity on The Relief Bus (LEFT)

At the organization I work with, New York City Relief, one of our most important jobs is to treat those who are last as first. We are sending a message. We give out mass quantities of food and beverage weekly. It’s not just what we do that’s important, but also how we do it. We want to serve the homeless, the mentally ill, the criminals and ex-cons better than the baristas at Starbucks serve the folks who can afford $5 coffees. By the way, I love those Venti-sized $5 coffees. Time for me to go to the back of the line.

My other son Connor took time to talk to five different homeless people on The Relief Bus recently. He called them “Sir” and Ma’am” to honor them. (LEFT)

Look around you. Who is last in your world? The immigrant bussing your table? The cleaning lady at your office? The Muslim guy pumping your gas? The woman with the cardboard sign you pass on the way to work? Your bum cousin who keeps losing his job? It will take something for you to impact their world. It will take time, creativity, listening to God for strategy and then courage to navigate your way into their world without making them feel like they are last. This is tricky business and we might even mess it up. I don’t want to think about the alternative- a life that is all about me. I want to join Jesus with the last.

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