May 222013


Last shall be first and the first last

Jesus spoke of the parable ‘so the last shall be first and the first last’ and many don’t understand. Photo by Arvind Balaraman/

The Christian biblical scriptures can be diversely interpreted by individuals. So much so that this results in different beliefs, as evident in the social media world of “this is what the Lord meant when He said ‘last shall be first” quotes on all the social sites (you know, the mentality of ‘I’m obnoxious with this screen in front of me’).

The different understandings have led to numerous heated debates and arguments which can leave bitterness not only in families but also in friendships and co-workers.

Last Shall Be First and the First Last

Well, here’s another interpretation to add to the arguments: What if the scripture ‘Last shall be first and the first last’ doesn’t mean what you think it means? What if this means something different from what you assume and it’s relative to your lifestyle instead?

The universal concept (understanding) of ‘first and last’ appears obvious but how we interpret it could play a role in this message. We assume an order; a privilege of being spiritually ahead (or behind) someone, similar to a formed line of people waiting to be served.

We may visualize people standing in line with the ones in front of us being ‘more’ favored by the Lord. Then we imagine the ones ahead of us looking back at us with a narcissistic smirk and the looming “I’m better than you” look: A spiritual ascension based on our good deeds; a type of purgatory in a way.

Now let’s erase that thought and read into the scriptures’ context. Jesus’ parable was about giving a penny to each person hired to work, regardless of how long that person worked. When one worker complained about working longer than some others, he wanted more than just a penny. This is when Jesus spoke the words “so the last shall be first, and the first last: For many be called but few chosen.”

This doesn’t appear to have anything to do with standing in line.

The parable suggests it is our (prideful) idea of what we think we are worth, not who’s better than someone else. The rich are accustomed to finer things whereas the poor are used to being without. The wealthy would be humbled with less, whereas the poverty stricken would feel blessed with more.

What if the ‘less and more’ were equal in heaven, with the equal being symbolized as the penny?

In other words, wealthy individuals may expect to eat steak while the poverty stricken people expect to eat hot dogs (expectations). But in the end, they all will eat hamburgers.

The rich wouldn’t be happy with that and it would appear to them that they are ‘last’ with the poor being ‘first.’ So it’s not the idea of who’s more worthy, but the inner idea of what we expect from our prideful expectations.

Heaven is offered to all of us, so it could be what we are accustomed to, or what we believe we deserve in the spiritual sense that the last shall be first and the first last. Your purgatory may be connected to this parable, and your pride.

Many scriptures allow for this ambiguity and elusiveness. Jesus intentionally spoke in parables not for only the intelligent people to decipher, but for the people who choose to open their eyes and ears to the Word.

Something to think about …