The last couple of weeks we have been exploring many of the things we wish Jesus had never said. Forgiveness is not optional. You can, by being an unrepentant sinner, get yourself kicked out the Kingdom of God, excluded from promises of Christ. We continue our tour this week.
“So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” If you listen to the world…. if you seek success, luxury, material happiness, if you strive to be first, if you get everything you wish for on earth, you will only end up last in the kingdom of God. If, instead, you seek after the kingdom, giving up material luxuries to help the poor, risk being used to help the needy, endanger your relationships to love the unlovable, if you seek after God by giving up everything and becoming last in this world, well, then, you will be first in the Kingdom of God. It would be a whole lot nicer if we could be first both ways, right? First here, first there… shouldn’t it work that way? But Jesus says, you can’t have it both ways.
Let me take a second here to dispel a popular myth. It is perfectly acceptable for a Christian to be rich. Not only do Christians often get rich (whether it be by hard work or being born that way), but sometimes rich people get God. There’s nothing new about any of that; the saints of God, people like Abraham and Job, people like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, were both rich beyond most of our dreams and also, well, saints, rewarded and revered for their faithfulness. But though they were first, they didn’t shy away from being last; they had the means to do whatever on earth they wanted to do, but trusted God enough to risk everything for heaven. Wealth is where you find it, of course, but even more, wealth is what you do with it once you find it.
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen. You can’t have it both ways, we think, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to think about it, because I think it depends on what it is. Do you want to be first here on earth? Who’s first around here, anyway? I guess President Barak Obama is Number One Guy on Earth; he certainly wields more power than anyone else, but who would want that job? With a new election cycle upon us, my favorite thing to do is see if I can discern what kind of disorder each of the candidates have to want such a job. Forbes Magazine just published its list of the Ten Happiest Jobs; they are, in order, Clergy, Firefighters, Physical Therapists, Authors, Special Education Teachers, Teachers (in general), Artists, Psychologists, Financial Services Sales Agents, and Operating Engineers. It would appear, on first glance, that being what most people consider first, being powerful, being rich, living the so-called dream, is nothing but vanity.
And what about the other first, being first in the Kingdom of God? You know who is first in the Kingdom of God? God. Next comes the Martyrs, the saints who have given everything, including their heads, to the Faith. The Blessed Mother is up there toward being first, that living martyr who had a sword of grief driven through her very heart. Sounds like fun, right? Many are called to be first in the Kingdom of God but few are chosen, and most of us are just fine with that.
So the last shall be first, and the first last. You can’t have it both ways. But I guess it does depend on how you define it, how you define “having it all.” For even King David wrote that he would rather be a door-keeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of the wicked; even surrounded by kingly splendor, David, given the chance, would have stood outside God’s house, holding the door for the “little people” as they go inside, than live in empty luxury. Our choice is different, but not by much. None of us are kings, but all of us get to choose what we value, what we pursue, and what will satisfy us. All of us get to choose to be happy when the last among us get to finally be first, and we get to choose to be happy to just be invited to God’s party. The best part is, everybody’s invited over to God’s house. If you accept the invitation and love His Son, you don’t need it both ways; first or last, you get to have it all.