The first shall be last

Daily Readings: Exodus 9-10, Psalm 21, Matthew 20

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These 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.’

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

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

-Matthew 20:8-16

So much of our emotional baggage in life stems from unmet expectations.

Often in life these unmet expectations may stem from a friend or loved one that falls short, doesn’t do what they say they are going to do, or intentionally hurts us in some way. In these times we are called to forgive them and turn it over to God. This, however, is not the situation we read about today.

Quite often frustration, hurt feelings, or anger stem from expectations that we have artificially created ourselves. They are formed on our own perceptions of what should occur based on what we have seen transpire with others around us. Frequently we are the workers, in the parable that Jesus shared today, that are hired on in the morning and worked a full day in the fields. When it is time to be compensated we want more than the others!

We want everything to be fair! This is unjust!

Jealousy and envy begin to creep into our hearts.

Jesus paints us a very different picture of what it looks like to follow him.

Later in chapter 20 this same theme comes up again when we see ten of the disciples angered at a mother’s request that her two sons be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in Heaven. I am sure every single disciple there thought that place should be reserved for them!

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus wants us to serve others willingly and joyfully. He wants us focused on him and not on what blessings appear in the lives of others and playing the comparison game with money, material goods, status, power, etc.

The last will be first and the first will be last.

The truth is that any blessings we have here on earth pale in comparison to what is to come. Through our faith in Jesus we have been guaranteed eternal life. The human brain cannot even come close to wrapping itself around this concept. The 70-100 years we have on earth is nothing compared to the eternity we will spend with God and yet how we choose to approach these years we are given can have an eternal impact on the lives of others when we choose to serve.

In Psalm 21 today we hear the following from David:

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty.
Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.

I want this to be the posture of my heart each and every day. This generally only occurs when the victories I am focusing on are eternal ones. When the desires of my heart and requests of my lips are for opportunities to do God’s will here on earth. When the splendor, majesty, and crown of pure gold I am chasing is the amazing gift of being able to walk with God and have him live in me. When I am focused on the joy of his presence and his unfailing love.

At times in our lives we may have a long absence of materials blessings in our lives, but we will never lack the opportunities to serve. When we shift this lens and rejoice in these opportunities instead of focusing the material blessings we see come into our lives, God is always faithful. We will never struggle to find the next person that could use a kind heart willing to serve.

Thought to ponder

In what areas of my life do I tend to play the comparison game and behave like the workers who worked the full day in the field instead of embracing the call Jesus gave us to servant leadership?

Our modern day birthright

Daily Readings – Genesis 47-48, Psalm 17, Matthew 15

When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.” He blessed them that day.

-Genesis 48:17-20

This story seems to be a running theme throughout Genesis. The idea of the birthright of the eldest son was deeply imbedded into the culture at that time and yet time after time we see it not quite go according to plan. Multiple times we see the younger brother placed above the older and it is always an incredible source of strife.

About the older, we repeatedly hear, “He too will be made into a great nation…” or “He too will be blessed…” and yet that doesn’t seem to be enough. If I am the oldest, I deserve the primary blessing! I deserve more! I want to be second to no one!

This poison of jealousy and comparison is not unique to the Old Testament and to birthrights in the time of Genesis. We may no longer embrace the right of the oldest son, but we have certainly not let go of the belief that we are owed something and become incredibly resentful when there is the threat that it may be taken away. We have definitely not stopped playing the game of comparing our blessings, status, promotions, wealth, etc. to those around us and wanting more. If we see someone else that we think is getting more than they deserve our first thought is typically not, “That is ok, God is showering blessings on me as well. It is alright if they have more even if I perceive it as undeserved.” We have a tendency to jump to jealousy.

In Matthew today Jesus warns, Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts.”

Jealousy defiles. It is an evil thought.

This is not the first time that Jesus has spoken on the idea that we focus too much on our actions and not enough on the heart. When we looked closely at the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus over and over again spoke to people about guarding our hearts and minds; not just our actions.

Jealousy and resentment are two of the enemy’s favorite weapons. They are a silent sin. It is easy for us to barely even realize we are doing it at times. It is less observable. If you struggle with stealing, lying, drunkenness, pornography, etc. it is fairly obvious. Maybe not to others, but certainly to yourself. We often times barely even realize when we are struggling with envy, jealousy, or resentment; and yet one of the Ten Commandments we will see eventually is “Thou shalt not covet…”

It is extremely difficult to focus on loving God and loving others if we are worrying about the blessings that perceive others to have in their lives and how those blessings may compare to ours. It is hard to win people over as a missionary in the marketplace if we are worrying about the “modern day birthright” we feel like we are owed based upon our performance, longevity, loyalty, etc.

Jesus wants our eyes focused on him.

Over and over again in the Old Testament “also being made into a great nation” wasn’t enough; and over and over again in our modern world we ignore the blessings placed in front of us because we are too busy wanting more.

Jesus is enough. The birthright we have in him is an eternal birthright to which all other earthly blessings pale in comparison. When we go about our day with this attitude of thankfulness instead of resentment, we have a far greater ability to share that birthright with others who are still far from God!

Thought to ponder

When was the last time I fell into jealousy and resentment while observing the life of another person? What caused me to stumble at that time?

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