The Last Shall be First…

[PILOT]

This is a sample Faith from the Margins to the Web reflection prepared for Proper 20, Year A

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 20:1-16

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

About the authors: Sarah and Michael

Sarah is the curator for Faith from the Margins; Michael, who is the co-author of this sample bible study, is a regular volunteer who comes on Friday mornings from his residential group home to help prepare the lunch we serve to around 100 people each week.  People who come for this community lunch (“Red Door”) are often experiencing homeless, poverty, and food insecurity.  I decided to schedule one of the organizing meetings for Faith from the Margins to the Web early in the morning before Red Door, before the heavy cooking and lunch preparations got underway.  But, early Friday mornings aren’t always the best time for students (or maybe, anyone) and a string of emails this particular morning saying, “I think I’ll come to the evening session next week instead…” made me wonder if my scheduling decision was wise.  Honestly, I was second guessing myself before I even walked in the parish hall doors.  And, it was still what was going through my mind when we opened up this Gospel lesson together.  

cropped-red-heart-in-hands

“Michael…I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t completely disappointed this morning.  This was the very first day that we were offering up this information and training for people who wanted to participate in this project.  I was prepped, I was ready.  I even stopped and bought all these pastries and got the room set up early.  Then, I sat here by myself waiting for people to walk in the door.  But, guess who showed up?”

We paused.  He laughed, “NO-BO-DY?”

“Well, you’re right…at least that’s what I thought at first.  But I learned that I wasn’t right.  I wasn’t right because pretty soon, you came!”

Michael chimed in:

“Well, I didn’t know about it before today, but I came here to help cook on Friday like I always do, and I got here early today and there wasn’t a lot for me to do yet.  Then when I came over to say good morning, you said you were here for this Bible study and I thought, “that sounds cool, I might like that!”  So, then, here we are.  And I was a little surprised, because you asked me to read.”

“Yes, I did…and you said “yes” right away!”

“I did.  Yes, I did.  That was cool.  I like to read but I’m not very good at it.  But you helped me with the hard words.  I liked this Gospel lesson, I really did.”

“What did you like?”

“I liked that it started with Jesus.  He’s the one who is like the landowner, you know, it was all about him.  It reminded me of John 3:16.  That’s my favorite bible verse, For God so loved the world…and God sent Jesus, and Jesus called to whoever was there.”

“Michael, I was just thinking…I wonder if the landowner in the parable was having a morning like me, when he expected to see a lot of people looking for work, waiting for him…but maybe there weren’t as many as he thought.”

“Yeah, but maybe they didn’t know about it, either.  I mean, maybe some people did but there still weren’t enough people to do all the work.  But then, he went out to ask again and there were more people, and then they helped.  It seems like whenever he saw there was work to be done, he asked for more people.  That’s why I think it’s Jesus.”

“Tell me more about that.  Is that how you see Jesus?”

“Sure, because sometimes you don’t know what to do, you don’t know who you are or what good you can do.  And then, Jesus calls and you get to do things.  Like when I help on Fridays, and sometimes I wrap the silverware, and sometimes I cook, and then we all eat together.  It always ends up that we eat together.”

“So, it sounds like, if this was a parable about Red Door, it would be like there were people who came really early and helped all day, and then others came right before lunch, but in the end it didn’t matter how long anyone helped or when people arrived…everyone would still be fed, all the same.”

“That’s right, and that’s how it is.  It doesn’t matter…people do what they can.  It’s about the helping, not what you do or how many hours.  It’s that we’re all needed.  We all have a job, and then we all have lunch.  I guess you could think you deserve more than someone else, but everyone gets what they need.  And its like it says, the last shall be first and the first shall be last.  I like that, because it reminds me that even if I am at the end of the line or at the beginning, there will still be something there for me.  That’s just how it is with Jesus.”

16267445189_d9b3fd7425_m

Michael wanted to wrap up our conversation so he could wrap up the silverware, but even after he left I kept thinking about his take on this Gospel.

We all are called at different times, when different needs arise.  We bring our abilities and our challenges with us when we hear the call; but that is no barrier to helping.  Helping is a lived-out state of heart.  There is always more to be done than people to do it.  But, in the end, Jesus…the landowner of the parable and the whole reason that we are Church together…makes sure that we are fed, nurtured, and sustained together.  The last isn’t greater than the first, nor the first greater than the last.  It takes all of us to do the work of tending the world, and we are called when we are ready and able, and all cared for with generosity, by a loving God.  Any misgivings we have about our deservedness are a second-guessing of that divine generosity.

Today, I learned a lesson from the margins that speaks to those of us who are the planners, the organizers and the preachers: we are not the ones in charge.  Of course, we can invite people to our trainings, our study groups or the many services filling our parish calendars.  But, sometimes it takes the unexpected guest to show up and remind us that it is always our God who calls us all to the work that needs to be done.