“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
These are familiar words to me. In fact, even those who have little familiarity with the Bible have probably heard some version of these words of Jesus found in Matthew 20:16. For most of my life I have taken these as a command: Place yourself in the lowest position so that eventually you will be on top. To be honest, I’m not even sure what that means. It kind of seems like a manipulative way to make myself look good. In the end, it always seemed like sneaky way to be selfish.
And I’ve always despised the fake humility that Christians (like me) can sometimes fall into, when it’s evident that we really think we’re better than those around us.
Twisted logic like this has plagued me when I’ve approached the Bible like an instruction manual, looking for the tricks and secrets to make it through life. But like many things that Jesus says, I’m not so sure these words are a command. The more I read the words of Jesus, the more convinced I have become that instead of commandments, he’s simply trying to help us see the true reality of the world around us.
And there’s a simple truth to the words of Jesus. Think for a second about someone you really admire — someone who has really figured life out or has incredible wisdom or who had the best attitude or seems to understand true success in life. Has that person been through some extremely difficult circumstances? Have they endured tough times and come out on the other side a better person?
Chances are, the answer is yes.
I think what Jesus is trying to get us to see is that we rarely end up on top unless we have experienced the bottom. The people who have the most success in life — and I’m not talking about money or fame, but real, true success — almost always have experienced loss, pain and failure. They have been to the bottom and know what it means to be on top.
That is what is so important about our theme this week. None of really wants to dive into difficulty. If I’m truly honest, I want success without the failure. I want to be Michael Jordan without getting cut from the varsity team first. I want to be Steve Jobs without getting fired from Apple. I want to be Mother Teresa without getting my hands dirty with lepers.
But life does not work that way. True successes are rarely seen without first going through the difficulties of life. These are what mold and shape us. They give us the perspective we need to live great lives.
So may we all follow the urgings of Jesus today. May we see that even if we feel on the bottom today, that the difficulty of life can lead to some amazing things. We may not be NBA champions or billionaire entrepreneurs or famous philanthropists, but we can be successful if we will dive in. Because on the other side of pain and struggle is love, wisdom, patience, peace and joy.
We can experience the success of the top if we can just endure the bottom.