The first should be the last!

439 the first should be the lastWhen we read the Bible, we have trouble understanding everything that Jesus said. A statement that is repeated over and over again is to be read in the Gospel of Matthew: "But many who are the first will become the last and the last will be the first" (Mt 19,30 LUT).

Jesus seems to be trying again and again to disrupt the order of society, to lift the status quo and makes controversial statements. The first century Jews in Palestine were very familiar with the Bible. The would-be students came back confused and upset by the encounters with Jesus. Somehow the words of Jesus did not suit her. The rabbis of that time were highly regarded for their wealth, which was considered a blessing from God. These were among the "first" on the social and religious ladder.

On another occasion, Jesus said to his listeners: "There will be howls and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you have pushed yourself out! And they will come from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and sit at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, they are the last, they shall be first; and it's first to be last "(Lk 13, 28-30 SLT).

Mary, Jesus' mother, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said to her cousin Elisabeth: "With a strong arm he has proved his power; he has scattered them in all the winds whose attitude is proud and arrogant. He has overthrown the powerful and raised the few "(Lk 1,51-52 NGÜ). Perhaps there is an indication here that pride is on the list of sin and God is an abomination (Spr 6,16-19).

In the first century of the Church, the apostle Paul confirms this reverse order. In social, political and religious terms, Paul was one of the "first". He was a Roman citizen with the privilege of an impressive lineage. "Who am circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, by law a Pharisee" (Phil 3,5 LUT).

Paul was called to the service of Christ at one time when the other apostles were already seasoned preachers. He writes to the Corinthians and quotes the prophet Isaiah: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the understanding of the wise. But what is foolish before the world, God has chosen, that he may make the wise miserable ; and what is weak before the world God has chosen to make him ashamed of what is strong (1, Kor 1,19 and 27 LUT).

Paul tells the same people that the risen Christ appeared to him "last of all as an untimely birth," after appearing to Peter, 500's brothers on another occasion, then James and all the apostles. Another note? The weak and foolish will shame the wise and the strong?

God often intervened directly in the course of the history of Israel and reversed the expected order. Esau was the firstborn, but Jacob inherited the birthright. Ishmael was Abraham's first-born son, but the birthright was given to Isaac. When Jacob blessed Joseph's two sons, he laid his hands on his younger son Ephraim, not on Manasseh. Israel's first king, Saul, failed to obey God as he ruled the people. God chose David, one of the sons of Jesse. David guarded the sheep out in the fields and had to be summoned to attend his anointing. As the youngest he was not considered a worthy candidate for this position. Again, a "man of God's own heart" was chosen before all other more important brothers.

Jesus had much to say about the law teachers and the Pharisees. Almost the entire chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew is addressed to them. They loved the best seats in the synagogue, they were happy to be greeted in the marketplaces, the men called them rabbis. Everything they did for public approval. Soon there should be a significant change. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... How many times have I wanted to gather your children, like a hen gathering their chicks under their wings; and you did not want! Your house should be left desolate "(Mt 23,37-38 LUT).

What does it mean, "He has thrown the mighty from the throne and lifted up the lesser?" Whatever we have received for blessings and gifts from God, there is no reason to praise ourselves! The pride marked the beginning of the downfall of Satan and is deadly to us humans. As soon as he gets us under control, it changes our overall view and attitude.

The Pharisees who listened to him accused Jesus of driving out demons in the name of Beelzebub, the demon prince. Jesus makes an interesting statement: "And whoever speaks against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who speaks against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven, neither in this world nor in the world to come "(Mt 12,32 LUT).

This looks like a final judgment against the Pharisees. They were witnesses to so many wonders. They turned away from Jesus, though he was true and wondrous. As a last resort, they asked him for a sign. Was that the sin against the Holy Spirit? Is forgiveness still possible for her? Despite her pride and hardheartedness, she loves Jesus and wants her to repent.

As always, there were exceptions. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, wanted to understand more, but was afraid of the Sanhedrin, the High Council (Joh 3,1). Later, he accompanied Joseph of Arimithea as he laid Jesus' corpse in the tomb. Gamaliel warned the Pharisees against opposing the apostles' preaching (Act 5,34).

Excluded from the kingdom?

In Revelation 20,11, we read of a judgment in front of a Great White Throne where Jesus judges the "rest of the dead." Could it be that these prominent teachers of Israel, the "firsts" of their society at the time, finally saw Jesus, whom they crucified, who he really was? This is by far a better "sign"!

At the same time they are themselves excluded from the kingdom. They see those people from the East and from the West, looking down on them. People who never had the advantage of knowing Scripture now sit at tables at the great festival in the Kingdom of God (Lk 13,29). What could be more degrading?

There is the famous "Field of the Dead Bones" in Ezekiel 37. God gives the prophet a frightening vision. The dry bones gather with a "rattling noise" and become human. God tells the Prophet that these bones are the whole house of Israel (including the Pharisees).

They say, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, now they say, Our bones are withered, and our hope is lost, and it is over with us "(Hes 37,11 LUT). But God says, "Behold, I will open your graves, and bring you out of your graves, my people, and bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you, my people, out of your graves. And I will give my breath into you, that you may live again, and will put you into your land, and you shall know that I am the LORD "(Hes 37,12-14 LUT).

Why does God place many who are first among the last, and why do the last become the first? We know that God loves everyone - the first, the last and all that are in between. He wants a relationship with all of us. The invaluable gift of repentance can only be given to those who humbly accept God's wonderful grace and perfect will.

by Hilary Jacobs


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