My wife and I had the uncomfortable experience of getting tested for COVID-19 last month. We decided to arrive early before the testing site opened. There were about 50 other people there ahead of us when we arrived. They weren’t waiting in a line, but sitting around the site in no apparent order. Being our first time getting tested and with no one around to ask, we weren’t sure where to sit and, as it unfolded, no one else knew where to sit either. We took a seat near the back and waited for testing to start.
Eventually, the doors opened and the medical staff emerged, and they admitted they did not know who had been waiting the longest, so they said they would just test people based on how quickly they filled out and submitted the medical forms being handed out.
As it happened, I submitted my form and my name was called out to get tested well-ahead of people who had been there earlier than me. And while the unpleasant experience of the nose-swab served some mortification, I walked out of my test and saw people who had arrived ahead of me still waiting. I felt guilty. I had violated the rule that whoever arrived first was first. This rule governs much of our society, our democracy and our economy. It works well. It’s a courteous rule.
In this week’s Gospel, we hear this rule has been overturned in the Kingdom of Heaven. “Thus the last will be first, and the first, last,” Jesus tells His disciples. While this rule is often understood as a maxim to care for the vulnerable, it’s really a map to finding Christ. My interpretation of the rule is that the person who becomes last to their own self, shall be made first in Heaven. There is only one person who completely embodies this rule. It foreshadows Him.
The Word existed before all things (John 1:1) – it was first – and when the Word was incarnated in Jesus, He put Himself last behind all of us. So, if you’re looking for Christ, He’s behind you. And behind those behind you.
You must go to the least of the last, and you will find Him behind them too.
Where we find courtesy in ‘first is first’, we find Christ in ‘first is last, last is first’. And in finding Christ, you’ll find more reward than one denarius or a swab up your nose.