Last week as I talked with my daughter about school and finishing her work early she said to me “I like to be first.” My heart stirred. I know that feeling; I remember having those same thoughts when I was in school. The first to finish a book, the first to finish my times test, the first to stand in line.
Being first conveys some special status in our culture; it means we’re “the best”; it means we’re “Number 1”. Being first suggests there is something special about us; something that sets us apart from the others. It elevates our rank in our own eyes and in that of those around us.
In Matthew 20:1-16 we read the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard. Jesus tells us that
“the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Sometimes (more often than I like) I still care about being first. The truth though is that always trying to be “first” or the “best” is exhausting. The constant striving for more and significance can leave me on empty, discontent and always looking to the next achievement.
I need to remember that being “first” or the “best” carries no weight in God’s eyes. This is not what God created us for; there is no perfection without our perfector. He is the only thing we should be chasing after.