In Matthew 20, Jesus shares a parable about an employer who hired extra employees late in the day. At the end of the day, he paid all of his workers a full day’s wage, regardless of what time they began working. Those who had worked all day objected, and he reminded them that he had planned to pay everyone for a day’s wage, which they had agreed to. The employer tells the irate employees that it is his money and he can do what he wants with it.
This parable is from verses seven through sixteen, and because the employer first pays the workers who started last, it concludes in verse sixteen with words, “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
This is one of several places in the New Testament where Jesus reminds us that human values and hierarchies do not translate into the spiritual world. This parable is a metaphor for the gift of Salvation through Christ, where we are accepted by Jesus if we repent of our sins and ask forgiveness, and commit to living a life that adheres to his teachings to love God with all our heart, love others as ourselves, and give service to the poor and disadvantaged.
I am someone who left my faith and lived a secular life for many years, whereas many in my family have been faithful all of their lives. For those of us who lost faith or who never had any exposure to Salvation, Christ is making it clear that we receive the same Salvation as those that who were always faithful. He seems to be admonishing the lifelong faithful that they must not resent those who are latecomers to a life of obedience to Christ.
He also speaks this way in other parts of the Gospels to his disciples and to religious leaders, reminding them that their duty is to serve and to lead others to belief in him so that they can receive redemption of their souls. It is clear from reading the Gospels that Jesus is very concerned about the human tendency to raise ourselves above other people by human standards, and he stresses that the values of the carnal world are not only of no value in the Kingdom of Heaven but that in fact they can endanger our souls and the souls of parishioners of those who would preach about God. Christ wants us to testify to our Salvation through him to others so that all can receive the gift of spiritual redemption, regardless of how late in life they may receive it.
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