In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus gives us an interesting parable. He tells of workers who were hired at different time during the work day. Some worked the entire day, and the last ones hired worked only the last hour. All the workers were paid the same amount regardless of how long they worked. The ones who came to work last were paid first, and the ones who worked the longest were paid last.
I knew a man who was 82 years old when he came to Jesus. He was a delightful man who then took pleasure helping out at his church. At the age of 89 the Lord took him home. I also knew a young man who was diagnosed with aids and shortly thereafter came to the Lord. Two years later, the Lord took him home. These two people are now experiencing eternal life in the presence of the Lord. On the other hand, I have known people who have spent almost their entire long-lives serving the Lord. They are now experiencing eternal life in the presence of the Lord.
Notice that they have all received the same reward. Those who were saved for a short time and those who were saved for a long time all have eternal life. The promise of God is eternal life for all who believe. There was thief on the cross next to Jesus who believed shortly before he died. He received the same promised reward.
Jesus often taught us to look at eternal things; however our physical existence is finite, so we tend to see things with that perspective. Our self-centered nature is another factor in how we look at events in our finite world. So when we were in school and the teacher directed us to line up in alphabetical order, but she then allowed the last in line to go first. Those who were used to being first felt cheated.
In school, we all got to go regardless of who went first. I think that gratitude comes into play here. We should be humbly grateful for what is given to us and not envious that someone else got to go first. In verse 16 of Matthew chapter 20, Jesus ends his parable with these words, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The Message translation calls this the “Great Reversal”. Jesus wants us to be thankful for the great gift he has provided for us and to not be concerned about who gets there first.