The Last will be First and the First will be Last

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Image source: LUMO Project

Today’s Bible reading includes some familiar words from Jesus:
“So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16 CSB) The context of His comments is the conclusion of a story of vineyard workers who grumbled about their paycheck. Now, there’s another hot topic!

Some of the day-laboring vineyard workers were hired early in the morning. Some were hired three hours later (9am). More workers were hired around Noon and still more workers were hired around 3pm. At 5pm, more workers were hired.

At the end of the day, the owner of the vineyard prepared to pay their wages by lining up the workers from those most recently hired to those hired at the beginning of the day. Those who worked only a couple of hours were paid a day’s wage. Those who worked three hours were paid a day’s wage. Those who worked six hours were paid a day’s wage. And those who had worked all day long were paid a day’s wage.

Those who were hired early in the day complained that they had been cheated. They slaved throughout the heat of the day. But the people who only worked one hour were paid as much as they were. That isn’t fair, they said.

We tend to describe “fairness” on our terms, especially when we’re the ones who were shortchanged. Based on Matthew’s account, it does seem unfair that all of the workers were paid the same, though they didn’t work the same.

So we need to dig a little further. We find that the key to understanding the last/first, first/last statement can be seen in verses 13-15.

“He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’ Matthew 20:13–15 (CSB)

The owner of the vineyard reminded the grumbling workers that it was his vineyard and they had agreed on the wages before the work began. Then, he pointed out that he had upheld his end of the contract. Besides, it was his vineyard! He owned the vineyard and they were merely paid workers.


How do you respond when you feel you have been treated unfairly? If we focus on us, it’s easy to get all bent out of shape. But we gain a better perspective when we back up and get the big picture.

When it comes to our salvation, we bring nothing to the table. We have absolutely nothing of any value to contribute. We owe an insurmountable debt to an infinitely holy God. God owes us nothing. Nothing! We … all of us … deserve eternal punishment from the King of the Universe because of our offense of High Treason.

God is the King in His Kingdom. He calls the shots. He makes the decision. It’s all about Him. It isn’t about us.

God owes you nothing but punishment for your sin.

But in His infinite grace and mercy, He grants forgiveness. He grants a pardon to all who put their trust in Him. Everyone who receives His grace and mercy receives an infinite amount to cover their infinite debt. No one receives more than any other because no one is any more deserving than another.

In Matthew 20, the disciples wanted priority over each other. Sometimes we do the same today. And when we do, we need to remember this chapter and realize that to grumble against God’s goodness demonstrates how much we still need to learn about grace!