“Z” is for “zucchini.” Traditional phonetics may teach “Z” stands for “zebra.” But I needed a picture for this blog post and I have zucchini plants growing in my backyard, not zebras. For the purpose of teaching, pictures combined with words make a doubly effective tool.
The letter “Z” is the last letter of the English alphabet but has few words beginning with it. Even so, that does not diminish its value because, without it, we would not have the words “fuzzy,” “dizzy,” and “bamboozle.” The letter “Z” is equal to all other letters because it helps make our language colorful and complete. With the letters of the alphabet, the last is just as important as the first.
Combining word pictures with moral teachings was a method that Jesus used by telling parables. His phrase “The Kingdom of God is like…” captivated his followers’ imaginations and launched them skyward by comparing common items or situations they were familiar with.
Such was the case when His disciples asked Him what their eternal reward would be for leaving their farms and families to preach The Kingdom. His answer to them curiously was, “But many who are first will be last and the last, first.” (Matthew 19:30) He further explained with the parable of the workers in the field.
The story described a landowner who hired workers to work in his field. Some were hired early in the morning and some were hired late in the day. At the end of the shift, all the workers received the same amount of pay no matter how long they worked. “Unfair!” the first workers objected. The landowner answered them with this reasoning. “‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way, but I wish to give to this man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ Thus the last shall be first and the first last.” (Matthew 20:13-16)
Maybe Jesus left the disciples scratching their heads still wondering what He meant, but we now have the fullness of Scripture to consider His teachings. His message to the multitudes in The Sermon on the Mount also clashed with culture. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3) By flipping the standards, He gave people hope that the corrupt economic system of this world would someday be abolished. God Himself will be the sole landowner of the world. Belief and trust in God is Heaven’s “currency” to buy into. And using our alphabet analogy, someday there will be no big I’s and little U’s. God will justly rule and human rights will finally be upheld.
To answer the objection of “Not fair!” there is nothing fair about God’s generosity to us through grace. Grace is the system of justice that Jesus afforded a world that is estranged from God by sin. At Christ’s expense, the debt of sin was paid, its death sentence carried out to God’s perfect satisfaction.
There will be nothing fair about the Apostle Paul, a zealous religious murderer who by his own admission was the worst of sinners standing at the final judgment alongside a lifelong Sunday school teacher who accepted God’s forgiveness as a teen at a youth retreat. This is not apples to apples fair but they will both be there because of God’s grace.
Therefore, if the last are first or the first are last, it doesn’t matter because God’s grace blankets all who believe in Him and receive Him. Christ is the greatest reward and ultimate prize to obtain. Those whose hearts are penetrated by the parables will make the connection. Heaven will be completely and colorfully populated by grateful forgiven people, A to Z, from every tongue, tribe and nation. And none of them gazing into the loving eyes of Jesus will be thinking about big I’s and little U’s.