What I’m Thinking: Going First

Why didn’t Jesus seem to think that the “nice people” would go first?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the twenty-first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 21:23-32). In chapter twenty-one, Matthew described Jesus’ last visit during his earthly life to the city of Jerusalem.

The chapter opens by telling of Jesus’ triumphal entry, a parade that was pretty much unmistakeable assertion of a Messianic claim. Further on, Jesus entered the temple and he threw out the money changers and the money lenders. In this section (verses 23-32), set on the next day, the priests wanted to know from Jesus what authority he had to do these things. Frankly, if it had been my church and somebody had done things like this, I’d have asked very much the same thing.

Everybody, in fact, wanted to know what authority Jesus had to ride into the city in the same way as predicted for a Messiah.

Curiously enough, Jesus refused to answer, but he went on to put this question to the priests and the religious authorities of the temple. He told a story about two sons asked by their father to go and work in the field. One said, “Yes,” and did not go; the other said, “No,” but he went. “Which of these,” asked Jesus, “did what his father asked?”

The answer, of course, is clear, and the priests were able to give it. The one who did what he was asked, whether he said, “No,” or not.

Jesus then said something astonishing. He said that the people who had done what was sinful in the sight of the law, of the people, and of God, would be the ones going into the realm of God before those who were regarded as good and as righteous. The priests, the lawyers, all those accounted wise teachers: they would be following the others. Why?

Because when John the Baptist came, those people heard his words summoning them to a different way of living, and they had believed. They had acted. They had changed their lives. Not so the “righteous ones.”

Jesus warned us over and over and over again against assuming that because of our righteousness no one else can be loved by God; that because we do our best to do well and to do right, nobody else who doesn’t meet our standards will ever do so. That seems to be a fundamental error of those who strive.

John the Baptist knew, Jesus knew, and if we read these books we should know that God’s compassion and regard are for everyone. And if we’re going to worry about who’s first and who’s last, the ones who most need God’s love get it first. We who are content, well, we will receive it, but maybe just a little later than those who need it more.

I suppose it’s worth asking if, in fact, you and I are really so righteous as we think. Chances are… well, I’ll speak for myself. I know perfectly well I’m not. So perhaps this is, in fact, a better word for me than I like to believe, that indeed I stand in great need of God’s compassion and love.

And who knows? It might just be me, in that need, who’s first in line.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , , | Posted on September 21, 2020

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