“So the last shall be first, and the first last.”Matthew 20:16
It’s funny to me how the actions of a single individual can leave such a lasting memory. More than 25 years ago I was with my Boy Scout troop canoeing the waters of the Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas over a long Good Friday weekend. During our last night on the river, our Scoutmaster called out to all the boys to make a single file line to share in a special cobbler he had prepared. Naturally, we all rushed to his location with our bowls and utensils eager to devour the dessert. We began to push, cut in line, and do whatever it took to be the first ones. When the dust settled, our Scoutmaster made an announcement citing Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” While we looked around perplexed and unclear of what his declaration had to do with cobbler, the Scoutmaster began to tell Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers.
In the parable, Jesus told the story of a landowner who at the beginning of the day agreed to pay a set of laborers a denarius to work in his vineyard. The landowner then went back to the marketplace four additional times in search of more laborers, each time offering to pay whatever was right. At the end of the day when the landowner was ready to pay everyone, he instructed his steward to begin payment with the last ones hired and ending with the first ones hired. Regardless of the amount of time worked, the landowner paid each set of laborers the same daily wage. However, those in the first set became frustrated with the landowner after being paid a single denarius when they believed they should have been paid more in comparison to all the others. The landowner quickly pointed out that the first set had originally agreed to be paid the daily wage of a denarius, and he was fulfilling that commitment. It was up to him whether he wanted to pay those hired later the same as the first.
As our Scoutmaster turned everyone around and the last boy in line became the first one served cobbler, his lesson continued. He drew the comparison that like the landowner’s decision, his cobbler was undeserved and it was his decision on how he wanted to serve it, regardless of scout rank, miles paddled, or any other objection we may have offered.
Ultimately, our circumstances in life and perceived position in line will not matter. Except for God’s saving grace, no person can be saved. To receive this gift of salvation, we must acknowledge that we can’t save ourselves, only God can through our faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7).