A few months ago, I had the chance to meet with five well known bloggers of the faith community. They have large followings, published books, they speak at varying conferences/retreats or some combination of the three.
When I asked if I could meet with them while they were in town, I pictured them opening a small window of time before getting on with their more important things. I was surprised instead when they flung open their arms and invited me along as a friend. They spoke so many words of encouragement over me during our time together in that weekend. They spurred me on in ways they will never know.
They reminded me of a fundamental truth: Jesus nullified the dichotomy we create between people. How we label some as important and others as insignificant.
We strive towards important, occasionally stepping past (or on) those who seem insignificant. We clamor for attention in so many different ways thinking that if we get our moment in the sun, our fame, our viral post, we will THEN be important. Or then we will be serving God.
As I was thinking about importance and insignificance, I remembered a job I had my senior year of college.
I worked in the office at a shelter for abused women. In order to acclimate me to the position, I sat in on an “intake” which involves sitting with a woman who is about to enter the shelter and documenting her abuse story. There are photographs taken of cuts, bruises and other injuries. There are forms filled out.
I remember the woman in the intake so vividly. I remember sitting with my heart in my throat as she spoke of the most recent event of abuse in her marriage. She held anger, shame, and even a little bit of hope that we somehow be on her side. That we would listen and validate her story. A story of her husband shoving, hitting and knocking her over, before he slammed her face into the floor several times. Her face was cut, and there were fist sized bruises around her ribs.
This woman was lower in education, in economy, and in so many other things that we strive for culturally. I remember thinking only of her significance and worth as a human being loved by God. Her bravery, her struggle, and her humanity spoke volumes.
When Jesus said the first shall be last and the last shall be first, he wasn’t inviting us into a new competition. He was saying the competition is off altogether.
The blogging friends and the abused women both taught me of our innate value.
Then I re-read the parable where Jesus compared God’s kingdom to working in a vineyard:
“God’s kingdom is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. Later, about nine o’clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage. They went. He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o’clock. At five o’clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, ‘Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?
They said, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He told them to go to work in his vineyard. When the day’s work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, ‘Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.’
Those hired at five o’clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more. But they got the same, each of them one dollar. Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, ‘These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.’ He replied to the one speaking for the rest, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?’
Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first. (Matthew 20 — The Message)
There doesn’t seem to be a hierarchy in the kingdom of God, right? Which is so hard to grasp in a culture of celebrities both inside and outside of the church.
But we don’t have to vie for our position. We can engage in living in sacrificial love for one another. And we can disengage with the game of “find your worth,” that we are invited to live out daily.
The game of accumulating possessions, accolades, achievements, degrees, and praise. Pretending that this is what makes us who we are. Pretending that this is what makes us more or less important than the person next to us.
Perhaps, the first end up last because they haven’t been living in reality.
Reality is we are all equal. Regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of personal achievements or wealth, regardless of fashion or trends, regardless of whether we were born into first world or third world. Reality is we are brothers and sisters, not competitors.
And when we believe that, we can step out of the fiction and into a new, true story.
And while the rest of the world rewards “power” and “honor” to those winning the game. We can lay it all down for others and pick up our own freedom.