“So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).
In this life coming in last is not something to write home about. Whether it is in a race or an exam, there is no glory for last place. I know. In my first marathon I came in almost dead last. The young girl who placed the finisher’s medal around my neck looked at me with pitiful eyes. Bless her. She stayed back just for me. So I know. Last does not count. It pays no dividends. It is to be pitied if lucky or ridiculed if not so lucky. Last is to be made fun of at the after-party. Last is lonely. Everyone hates last.
Well, not everyone. Jesus roots for the underdog. He loves to subvert the way of popular opinion. The world says, “Last sucks,” and he says, “The last will be first.” What is he talking about? In which universe does coming in last put you on the podium?
The first clue to the mystery is to understand that there are multiple universes (even astrophysicists agree with this one) and that more often than not, when Jesus speaks he often uses the natural as a ramp to the spiritual. For example, he talks to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well about water only to introduce her to living water. And he feeds the multitude with bread as a gateway to introducing himself as the Bread of Life.
And so if we are make sense of how the first can become last and vice versa we must keep this principle in mind. With that said, if we attempt to confine the revelations of God solely to time and space, then we are not going to be able to make sense of much of what Jesus says.
In discussing compensation for following him, Jesus is careful to let his followers know that those who make sacrifices for him and the kingdom will be compensated “in the regeneration when the Son of man sits on the throne of glory.” The investment of time, talents, and resources we make in this life for Christ will bear returns in the next.
So, how do we get to the back of the pack? How do we find ourselves in last place? For sure it is not something we strive for, no more than a runner would aim for last place, but it is where we find ourselves in this world as a result of our commitment to Christ. Those who ‘save’ their lives from the persecution and sacrifice that accompanies surrender to the will of God will lose it when time is called on this age and the next one is inaugurated by Christ. They who were mighty here will be weak there and they who were rich in this world will become paupers in the next. It is like a teeter-totter swinging between visible and invisible realms. One end is in the visible world and the other in the invisible realm. As the seesaw rises in the visible world it descends in the ethereal realm. Those who are UP in this earthly realm will find themselves DOWN in the heavenly sphere.
And thus it is that “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Mt.9:29). We might be last in this world, but it is ok, because we will be first in the one that never ends.