And the last will become first

Holy Hour reflection during Leadership Camp for KYCS (20 September 2014)
Matthew 20:1-16
I remember when we were in the army, before we went on group runs or long marches, our officers and sergeants would take pains to arrange our running order. Those who had the ability to run or march fast would be placed at the back of the group while the slowest ones would be in front. This might not make sense at first but if the intention of the commanding officer was to keep the group together, it does make sense after all. If we placed the people in order of speed, the fast runners would run so fast that the slow ones at the back wouldn’t see them till the finish line. Placed in the opposite order, the group would run or march together, at the pace of the slowest in the group. A sensible leader would do that and would respect the strengths and weaknesses of everyone, having everyone help each other to reach the goal together.
The gospel reading is pretty strange. From the parable, the Lord seems to be telling us that sometimes, lazy people get rewarded and the hardworking ones get ‘cheated’. But I think the Lord’s making a point by turning our expectations on their head so that we see things his way instead of our way.
We learned during our sessions that good leaders don’t lead because of authority. Authority just comes from structures and titles and don’t really mean much. Good leaders lead well when those that they lead follow because they want to. The followers want to follow and do things because they feel safe and that the leader would definitely do the same for them [Good video talk where I got this idea from]. In the same way, the reading reminds us that we don’t follow the Lord because of some expected reward or ‘salary’ but because we truly want to.
But where does this ‘want’ come from? Why would we want to follow the Lord. That comes from the grace of God. We can’t choose to follow the Lord purely from ourselves – the will to follow comes as a grace from God. The Lord gives us the grace to want to follow him. We want to serve the Lord through others as servant leaders because the Lord calls us to do so. St Ignatius, in the last line of his famous Suscipe prayer states as much ‘Give me only your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.’
And the Lord gives us such graces and more. Is God fair in giving things? God is always fair and is often more than fair. That’s what the parable shows – the landowner is fair by giving a proper wage to everyone but is more than fair to the point of almost ridiculous generosity by giving the same wage to those who worked less. We’re called to try to emulate this – we give and serve because of the grace of God because we receive such grace in abundance.
So where does that leave us about being first and then last? Serving the Lord and serving others for the sake of external rewards wouldn’t make sense in this regard. If we serve others purely because we want to and because we’re following the example of the Lord, then it doesn’t matter if we’re first or last. The only thing that matters is that we’re serving the Lord through others. We wouldn’t care about where we are in the group as long as we get there in the end, as a group. Any community is only as strong as the weakest member, so putting the weakest member out in front would help that member to grow so that the whole community grows. Isn’t that the job of a good leader?
The prophet Isaiah reminds us ‘ Yes, the heavens are as high above earth, as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts.’ God works in ways that we may not always  understand. But we know of God’s grace and gift, of serving and loving. And we do what we can with our strengths and leave the rest to God.

1 Response to “And the last will become first”

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about the brushhead

had a head like a brush (it's more like an egg now). seeks to sweep through thought and faith with that brush. tries to wax philosophical but often forgets to wax off. trying to be good brush to all, while discerning what kind of brush he's meant to be.

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