Matthew 20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last."
This text is the heart of Matthew 20, and its not particularly an easy text. Generally most people would prefer being first in most things that are good or enjoyable. First choice is generally the best choice, Even in the expression "saving the best till last" – its not that you didn’t want it first, but rather it is a discipline which has taught us that sometimes there are other things which once done, will permit us to savor something with uninterrupted pleasure.
Everything around us says the best is first and the first is best – well almost everything – sometimes when it comes to work, or a call for volunteers – thought to let someone else go first, which may be to our advantage if we didn’t want to do it anyway. So, in most cases, my first choice will always be what is most advantageous, to me.
God’s ways are not man’s ways – and God reveals this in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Those who got hired last, were paid first, but everyone received the same wage. It didn’t seem fair then, and it doesn’t seem fair now. But the point is not – everyone receives the same, the point is everyone receives what they need – the point is that God can be generous – and that we should not be jealous when God is generous – but to be thankful everyone receives what they need.
Our Gospel begins which Jesus speaking of his approaching passion and death. If the teaching is going to suffer and die, the disciples may expect the same. But that is not the turn the text takes, the text then turns to who is first. Its almost as though no one had really heard the parable of the laborers in the vineyard; or remembered what Jesus had just said about the price he must pay.
Its not that James and John asked for themselves, their mother asked for them, and mothers are liable to watch out for their children, and to want the best. Jesus reply does not turn on whether they are worthy, but rather on whether they are committed enough to follow him all the way, even unto death, and even though they make a commitment, they are promised nothing.
The other 10 are indignant – and in that, they are like all of us who want to be first. And this brings us to that teachable moment – Jesus explains what the mission is:
But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 20.26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 20.27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 20.28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Greatness in the kingdom of God is not being served, but serving others
Slaves are great in the kingdom of God – for a slave only does the master’s will.
Servants are great in the kingdom of God – for a servant does what is needed
Jesus can not to be served, but to serve – to give his life that others might live
Those who would follow Jesus can expect no less.
This is worth doing, because of the promise of God, that he will lift up the humble
He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, 1.52 he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; 1.53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. 1.54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,