The Last shall be First, and First shall be Last

Matthew 21:28-32

Last Sunday we heard a parable from our Lord about the landowner and his workers. Remember the last line? “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Today we heard a parable about a man who had two sons. Which son did the will of his father?

Those who were listening to him said, “The first.” Then Jesus lets them have it!

He says, “Truly, I say to you, the Tax collectors and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you! Why? Because they believed what John preached, and they repented.

Who is he “you” in this context? We have to go up to Matthew 21:23 to find out.

“And when Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching.” The Greek word for elder is presbuteros which became the English word presbyter. It does not mean “priest.”

They said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”

Jesus knows the chief priests and elders did not accept him, or listen to God much it seems, so he began this series of parables as a way of teaching that they were not going to inherit the kingdom of God if they continued to behave as they had.

At the beginning of this chapter, there is the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

He said, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a coat, the foal of an ass.?

The prophet Zechariah wrote an oracle of the Lord, saying, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a cold the foal of an ass.”

The prophet Isiah wrote, Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes.”

Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He was living the prophecies of the Messiah. He was showing them who he was, though few actually believed in him.

Those who have the ears of faith do believe in him. You and I have the ears of faith to read about his words and deeds and believe.

St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, chapter 2,
“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

We bow our heads at the Name of our Lord out of reverence for him. We cannot even imagine what it would be like not to believe and worship.

And yet our Lord remained humble with everyone, never putting himself above others. His entry into Jerusalem was humble and mounted on a foal of an ass.

From St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians,
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”

These parables of our Lord in Matthew 21 may have been his way of helping the priests and elders find some humility, although it really upset them.

From Matthew 21:45 “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.”

What then should be our reaction? Would we be offended, or can we learn from his humility? I suppose we have to ask ourselves a few questions.

Are we treating others with humility, and not a sense of haughtiness or grandeur?

Are we considering the needs of others, instead of trying to find their faults?

Do we forgive those who have offended us, even though they have not asked for it?

St. Paul advised us to; “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

People who are boastful and self centered have a very hard time with this, but a spirit of humility will not only boost the self esteem of others, it will boost our Father’s esteem of us.

We ought to look to the example of Jesus in everything we do, and remember the prophetic words about the Kingdom of Heaven; the last will be first, and the first will be last. Amen.

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