Connections 03.13.2022: The Last Will Be First

Luke 13:22-35

A consistent theme of Jesus’ earthly ministry was inverting cultural expectations and standards. Think of how many times he met with the lowest classes of his society. How often he challenged the elite and wealthy and powerful. How frequently he said the first will be last and the last will be first in God’s kingdom. Now think about the ways the leaders of his society reacted to his actions. They dismissed his claims. They tested his teachings. They threatened his life.

What kinds of people would Jesus meet with today? Which ones would he dismiss? Which ones would he consider the “first” and the “last”?

Currently, the United States is going through a reckoning over race relations. Though the nation has certainly advanced from the days of chattel slavery and Jim Crow laws, those centuries of oppression still deeply affect people of color. Writing for the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit in Washington, DC, that aims to solve societal problems, Rashawn Ray and Andre Perry explain the disparity between white and Black families in the US:

Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family. White college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates. Making the American Dream an equitable reality demands the same U.S. government that denied wealth to Blacks restore that deferred wealth through reparations to their descendants… [and] wealth-building opportunities that address racial disparities in education, housing, and business ownership.

These are high demands, and they are not well received by a lot of people—particularly white people in power. It’s hard to swallow the idea that in order to lift some people up, other people may have to take a step back in terms of how much power and influence they wield over others. Think of it like a circle of you and your friends, all chatting after church. If everyone takes a single step backward, there’s room for more people to share in your fellowship. Still, when we’re talking about race, some of us may react like some of the Pharisees in many biblical stories about Jesus, fearful for our own safety and security, threatened by the idea that we may have to give something up for the benefit of others. We fear being treated like the worst-treated people in society instead of aiming for everyone to be treated like the best-treated in society.

But Jesus said several times, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30; see also Matt 19:30; 20:16; Mark 10:31). No matter how Jesus’ words make us feel—and our feelings probably depend on where we stand in society—we can’t dispute its truth. Jesus is as much about equality and justice as he is about love and mercy. We can’t read the Gospels and think he would have nothing to say about the disparities in our nation—about how hard it is for people of color and Black people in particular to step beyond the burdens of centuries of oppression; how they get pulled into cycles of poverty and violence and desperation; how they are viewed negatively and instantly judged by many white people, even if everyone’s intentions are good.

Facing the history of the United States requires great humility from people like me who were born into privilege simply because of my race. I must ask myself, what can I do to lift others up the way Jesus would? How might I need to take a step back in order to share my blessings and influence more equally?

Source: Rashawn Ray and Andre M. Perry, “Why we need reparations for Black Americans,” April 15, 2020, Policy 2020 Brookings, https://www.brookings.edu/policy2020/bigideas/why-we-need-reparations-for-black-americans/.

Discussion

• The issue of race relations in the United States is complicated and volatile. There is much disagreement over how to—and whether to—make reparations to people of color who still suffer from centuries of oppression. How can Christians approach this issue?
• Which kinds of people do you think Jesus would meet with if he walked the earth today?
• Which kinds of people might Jesus challenge?
• Whom might he consider the “first” and the “last” in his inverted idea of society?
• Depending on your status in society, what could your role be in the mission of Jesus?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

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Comments

  1. Craig Groce says

    This is a thoughtful and mindful article. However, it is not applicable to the Connections study for March 13, 2022. Even the ending paragraph is incorrect, “For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide …”

    Someone needs to edit the Editor.

    • Katie Cummings says

      You may have noticed that Kelley is the assistant editor of both Formations and Connections. I as the web editor put the wrong paragraph of text at the bottom of her article. Thank you for pointing out the mistake so that I could correct it.

      In writing these articles, our editors try to provide an additional way of thinking about the biblical passage as a supplement to what we provide in the teaching guide, commentary, and study guide. I’m sorry you don’t find the article helpful to you as you prepared for the lesson. I hope the information in the printed curriculum provided what you needed.

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