Back in the day, as a first grade teacher, I would heave a big sigh of frustration when it was time to line up students and take them to another location, any location! It didn’t matter where we were going, the scenario was the same. EVERYONE wanted to be first in line. Some fought so hard that the line would tumble like dominoes from the door to their desks. This would be followed by, “Ow, you hurt me!” or “Teacher, he touched me!” This was followed by the screamed words, “HEY, I WAS HERE FIRST!”
Raising my voice and telling them to go back to their seats and WALK nicely to the line didn’t help. Sending a small group at a time was better but didn’t truly solve the inner problem of selfishness. The inevitable race was on even if there were only two trying to get to the door! Every. Time.
After a sermon about the Vineyard Workers, I developed a new surprise tactic and used it in my arsenal of teacher tips for survival. As my little friends fought to be first in the line the next day after reading how Jesus handled a similar situation, I just stood silently and watched the battle to be first begin as we lined up for music.
As soon as they settled after the predicted pushing and shoving, they began to wonder why I was silent and just staring at them. Silence by the teacher, accompanied by “the teacher look” always causes a sudden calm mixed with a bit of fear of the unknown. But it only lasts for a moment so you lean into it while you can.
“Here’s what we are going to do”, I said with complete calm. It is amazing how you fight every day to be first when we are all going to the same place and will end up there at the same time! Think about it.
“So, we are going to play a fun little activity called, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” All eyes on me, I asked them to stay in line exactly as they are now. I took the hand of “winner of first in line” and told the rest to follow the “leader” who was now me and the person who’s hand I was holding. As we marched around the room, avoiding group tables, we stopped.
“Stay in line exactly as you are”, I reminded them. You fought to be where you are so stay there. I dropped the hand of the first in line. I then took the hand of the last one in line and led the line to the door. “There you are, the last will be first today and the first will be last.” There were groans but the point was made.
As believers, we are all going to the same place at the same time. It would be great if we didn’t hurt each other on the way. A bonus would be that we would actually help each other on the Way.
As teachers, take your clues from Jesus, the Master Teacher!
The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon 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 five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘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.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’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.”
Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
THINK ABOUT IT MORE DEEPLY…
This truth of “last will be first and firsts will be last” was amplified in the parable of the workers in the vineyard. This parable has nothing to do with salvation. The penny (a day’s wages in that time) does not represent salvation, for nobody works for his salvation. Nor is the parable talking about rewards, for we are not all going to receive the same reward. “And every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1Cor. 3:8).
The parable is emphasizing a right attitude in service. It is important to note that there were actually two kinds of workers hired that day: those who wanted a contract and agreed to work for a penny a day, and those who had no contract and agreed to take whatever the owner thought was right. The first laborers that he hired insisted on a contract.
He wanted those who were hired first (who insisted on a contract) to see how much he paid the workers who were hired later. It was one way the owner could show those workers how really generous he was.
Put yourself in the place of those workers who were hired first but paid last. They each expected to get a penny, because that was what they agreed to accept. But imagine their surprise when they saw the laborers who were hired last each receiving a penny! This meant their own wages should have been twelve pennies each!
But the three o’clock workers also received a penny—for only three hours of work. The men last in line quickly recalculated their wages: four pennies for the day’s work. When the men hired at noon also were paid a penny, this cut the salary of the contract workers considerably, for now they would earn only two pennies.
But the owner gave them one penny each. Of course, they complained! But they had no argument, because they had agreed to work for a penny. They received what they asked for. Had they trusted the goodness of the owner, they would have received far more. But they insisted on a contract.
The lesson for Christ’s disciples is obvious. We should not serve Him because we want to receive an expected reward, and we should not insist on knowing what we will get. God is infinitely generous and gracious and will always give us better than we deserve.
As believers and servants of Christ in this world, how petty and particular, competitive and arduous are we at wanting to be first?
We serve because Jesus Christ served. He was sent to earth to seek and to save lost people, to restore people to a right relationship with God by sacrificing His life for ours. Jesus explains, “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 in our supreme example of teaching us how the “first shall be last and the last shall be first” in attitude, unconditional love, mercy and grace.
Love God. Love others like He loves us. BE and DO all…
In Jesus Name, Amen.