LILO, FILO, LIFO, FIFO
Matt. 20:1 ¶ “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
Matt. 20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Matt. 20:17 ¶ While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way,
Matt. 20:18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death;
Matt. 20:19 then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Matt. 20:23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Matt. 20:25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
Matt. 20:26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,
Matt. 20:27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;
Matt. 20:34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.
This entire chapter is about understanding the way the kingdom of God functions. It begins with the parable of the landowner. Those who work in his fields, whether they began early in the morning or late at night will all receive the same pay. He's just told that story and sandwiched between the next event Jesus tells the disciples that he will be going up to Jerusalem. He, the son of God, will be mocked, flogged and crucified. He, the greatest, will be made the weakest, before he can be made the greatest again. And clearly not comprehending what he's talking about, James and John want to know if they can sit at the head table of the kingdom? I'm guessing that Jesus is a bit frustrated. He'd just told them the last would be first and the first last and that he, the son of God was going to be killed! He tells them they will experience what it's like to be serving in God's kingdom. Then he reminds them that if they want to be great, they must be servants or slaves.
The final scene of the chapter brings us to two blind men on the side of the road. Of course there are better looking people in the crowd shouting out at Jesus, but he hears them. These two blind men, the very lowliest that day are the ones who are touched by Jesus. They receive their sight and they follow Jesus.
Years ago I was in a statistics class where we studying different principles related to accounting and inventory management. This was where I was introduced to LILO, FILO, LIFO, and FIFO. Or, more clearly, Last In Last Out, First In Last Out, Last In First Out, and First In First Out. The Kingdom of God would be LIFO, and FILO, according to today's reading. The Last In would be the First Out and the First In would be the Last Out. And yet, for most of us we have trouble with this concept. It just doesn't seem fair. But there are great lessons for us to understand from all of this.
First of all, it's a lesson on grace. How often do we want grace for ourselves, but when it comes to others, we become concerned that too much grace is being shown? The landowner shows grace to those who began early in the day and to those who worked very little. The landowner pays them all a fair wage. Everyone who works for him knows the game plan from the very beginning and if they fulfill their responsibility, through his graciousness, the landowner pays them all. Aren't we glad that God is willing to take us no matter where we are in life. Even the sinner who has spent their entire lives wandering can come back to God and receive the full reward. Isn't that what we would want? I know that my Grandma Schimdt prayed for her two oldest sons all of their lives. Our of her six children, they were the only two who were not following the Lord. It was her passionate desire that they would come to know the Lord and it wouldn't have mattered when -- she just wanted them in the kingdom. She prayed until the day she died but they did not know the Lord. However, late in life both of them gave their lives to the Lord. Grandma's prayers were eventually answered and I believe today they have all be reunited in the presence of the Lord. I know that Grandma was grateful that those who came late in life would receive their reward. No jealously there!
Second, the lesson is on God's ability to use whomever he chooses. Could this parable have been a foreshadowing? You see, the latecomer on the scene for the Apostles would be Paul. Think about that. Here, these disciples had been following Jesus for three years. Paul, in the meantime, was running around trying to put Christ followers to death. And yet, why would God use him to become such a great founding leader of Christianity? It's easy to imagine that there could have been jealousy among the disciples. How could Paul come along later and now we be used in such a powerful way for God? This is the way that God chooses to work. The most unlikely can become the greatest in the kingdom.
And finally, maybe it is a challenge to us today, about whom we are willing to welcome into the kingdom. The two blind men on the side of the road were probably the worst-looking of the people that day. I can even imagine the smell! There were plenty of "normal" and probably "well-kept" people on the road wanting Jesus' attention, and yet he had compassion on these two. It makes me wonder about the people we are inclined to reach out to in the church. Would we stop for the two filthy, stinky blind beggars, or would we look for more respectable people to invite into our worship experience? This final scene is a challenge and illustration of the kinds of people we are to be inviting into the kingdom. These are the ones on whom Jesus would have compassion, and so should we!
We can become hung up on worrying about FIFO, because that would seem to make sense to us, but instead, we must become participants in the LIFO, and FILO kingdom of God. We need to live by these principles as we serve in the kingdom.
Lord, thank you for allowing us to have a glimpse of your kingdom. Amen.