Column by Manning Pastor Sam Livingston: The last first and the first last


In the gospel according to Matthew, we find these words recorded from the mouth of Jesus, "Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen," Matthew 20:14-16.

Jesus told the story about laborers who were hired to perform a task at an agreed wage. The hiring manager then hired additional workers throughout the day. At the end of the day, even the persons who only worked one hour received the same pay. This was very upsetting to the laborers who were hired first and worked all day. The goodman of the house then reminded those who complained that they agreed to work for a penny. Jesus ended the story in verse 16, "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."

How often do we see this in life? Here recently, we see people show up for COVID-19 vaccine shots early, to be among the first in line. Simply because the process was set up on a first-come, first-served basis. People get very upset when a person cuts in line. The idea behind getting to the site early is to avoid long wait times.

So how do we justify the first being last and the last first? This principle predominantly applies to the desires of God. People give you the stink eye when you walk to the head of the line. Dignitaries, however, don't even get in the line; they enter through another access. In the story told by Jesus, the first workers represent those people who think that they are better than the average person. These are the people who step on you on the way up and don't even think of saying "excuse me." These are the people who feel that they are superior to other people. They value the lives of animals to be more important than other people who are not in their category. They behave like they are the only people in the world.

The people in the story who were hired last are those who are expected by the first group to always receive less. They deserve to be at the end of the food chain. They get what they deserve because they did not perform the same level of work. These are the people who made sacrifices for God and others and could not be available to do as much as the first group. These are the people who performed based on the opportunities given to them.

We see this in our world every day. Europeans want total control of the United States of America because they say that they were here first. In reality, however, they were here second because the indigenous peoples, the Indians, were here first. But because of this mindset, we witness hatred every day. African Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc. are victims of hate crimes on a daily basis.

It is God who determines what group of people becomes the beneficiaries of his favor. As long as I receive what the Lord promised me, what he rewards you with is none of my business. There will always be employees hired after you and promoted before you. There will always be people who join the team after you but play more minutes than you. There will always be people who were born after you but died before you. Be thankful for what God gave you.

Sometimes we will be the first, and other times we will be last. Thank God for life!

Sam Livingston is pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Manning.