First last, last first, last first, first last

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I was listening to the Gospel of Matthew this morning on the way to work and this passage struck me.

Matthew 19:30-20:16
30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5So they went.

"He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

7" 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
"He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

8"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'

9"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

13"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."


I am an HR practitioner and every time I read this passage, I can really hear the workers who complained to Jesus, because I do hear it every now and then, and actually I just had an earful of it yesterday, but remember, this is a parable and like any parable, it gave the intended audience at that time, one lesson they need to learn, and the lesson here is pretty clear - in fact, the parable itself is sandwiched by it in a mirror image.

"But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first...So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

It is a hard thing to accept. Sometimes, I try this at work but I know it doesn't work. We talk about fairness, we expect equity, internal and external, and yet there is a truth here in what Jesus teaches: "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

We feel the unfairness sometimes at how the cards are dealt in our lives compared to the others, but I know that when one thinks only about themselves, then there will be unfairness but when we think for the others, there will be rejoicing.

A hard lesson but a needed one, and dead important: First last, last first, last first, first last.

I am taught that when anything is repeated in Scriptures, it is very important. More so here, being repeated in parallel and mirrored in three parts.*

pearlie

* I wonder what this is technically called? Do you know?

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