From the Word
14 Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:14–16, RSV
The two words “last” and “first” must be considered from two viewpoints. The first before men are the last before God, and the last in the eyes of men are first in the eyes of God. On the contrary, the first before God are the last before men; and those whom God esteems as the last are considered by men to be the first. This gospel does not speak of first and last in a common, ordinary sense; but it means those who imagine they are the first or the last in the eyes of God; the words ascend very high and apply to the better classes of people; they terrify the greatest of saints. Behold, how Saul fell! How God permitted David to fall! How Peter had to fall! Why is it that so many sects have arisen? No doubt, because they were self-secure and without fear, considering themselves the first. Hence they must become the last.
The substance of this gospel is that no mortal is so high, nor will ever ascend so high, as to have no occasion to fear that he may become the very lowest. On the other hand, no mortal lies so low as not to have the hope extended him that he may become the highest; because here all human merit is abolished and God’s goodness alone is praised, and it is decreed as on a festive occasion that the first shall be last and the last first. In that he says, “the first shall be the last,” he strips thee of all thy presumption and forbids thee to exalt thyself above the lowest outcast, even if thou wert like Abraham, David, Peter or Paul. On the other hand, in that he says, “the last shall be first,” he checks thee against all doubting, and forbids thee to humble thyself below any saint, even if thou wert Pilate, Herod, Sodom and Gomorrah. For just as we have no reason to be presumptuous, so we have no cause to doubt; but the golden mean is here confirmed and fortified by this gospel, so that we look not upon the penny but the goodness of the householder, who is the same and alike to high and low, to the first and the last, to saints and sinners, and no one can boast nor comfort himself nor presume more than another.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. 1915. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern.
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