This last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell his disciples that those who considered themselves first would be last, and the last would be first. This was prompted by the disciples bickering amongst themselves over who was more important. Whenever I read this gospel or proclaim it, I am reminded of my grammar school days, especially kindergarten, when being line leader was the most important job I though a five year old could have. Every week Mrs. Teasdahl made up a list of the tasks assigned to particular children. Eventually, we all got our turn doing something, but the reading of that list and getting our assignment was the highlight of Monday morning. I held my breath and waited to hear “Ellen – girl’s line leader.” And I never did. I was the milk monitor, the child who brought the milk money to the office every day; I was the ball monitor, the child who got to carry the red rubber ball in from the yard, I was the window monitor, the child who got to open and close the windows with the giant hook. But I was never line leader. I assumed I was a nobody, a failure.
How strange that we should measure our achievements and worth by where we stand in a line or what job we get to undertake. I got to sing a solo in the Christmas pageant and performed in other dramatic shows as a five year old, but for some reason, leading that line was what was important to me.
For some people, where you stand in line and society is still important. Take for instance Mr. Romney’s comment at a private party about the percentage of Americans who believe the government should take care of him. Words he thought were spoken in private, in an unguarded moment, perhaps, but to me and others, many others, they were insulting and a reflection of what he thinks of us, and his values.
What would Mr. Romney have done if Jesus replied to him? What would he have said when Jesus said the first shall be last and the last shall be first to him – a man who had a comfortable life for most, if not all of his days and never knew real privation?
We are ‘you people,’ ‘those people,’ to people like the Republican presidential candidate; to Christ, we are equals and worthy of respect and love and called to put aside pride and self-love to love and serve one another.
As a child, if I had looked up or down the line, I would have found a little girl in front of me and a little girl behind him. I would be somewhere in the middle, which is where I am today. What I didn’t know then was that I was surrounded by love and it is perfectly acceptable to put myself last so that others with greater need can have their turn at the head of line and have those needs fulfilled. It’s my job as Christian to step aside and let someone go before me, and, if once in a while, someone doe the same for me, well, that’s proof that the Gospel can be lived out in a modern world.
My friends, get in line.