I’m home sick today with a fever and aches. Yet I just ate the last one of Jonathon’s monster brownies. Why? Read on.
Growing up at Dad’s, nobody ate the last of anything. If you did, you’d end up an old maid. Blame it on Grumpa, my stepmom’s dad. He told us the naked truth. So, in a house with three daughters, there’d be leftover single slices of pizza. This in spite of our great familial love of the cheesy pie. You’d find the last serving of apple crisp. A cookie. A nub of cheese. A glance in our family refrigerator looked like a buffet of last rites nourishment.
“What is up here? Why doesn’t anyone finish anything?” Jonathon asked me once when he stayed over for a visit, his head in the chill box.
Ever helpful, I explained the state of the union to him. None of us girls wanted to end up alone. We took precautions.
He looked ferhoodled. The entire feminist movement, thwarted by a single ingested superstition.
He looked at me, questions all over his face, but no judgment. Then Jonathon made up his mind.
“Huh. Guess I’ll eat it then.”
Fast forward a bit. Now, I’ve been married since 1992 and have two children, I think it’s safe – finally – to eat the final whatever.
But the whole thing reminds me of this parable of Jesus out of Matthew 20:
“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.
“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.
“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’
“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’
“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’
“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” – Matthew 20:1-16
I remember getting picked last for kickball games. I was tentative at best, stepping up to the pitch. When kicking, I usually lifted the ball up with my foot. This guaranteed a fly ball. Translation: an easy out. My comrades caught on. Hence, a lot of time hugging the chain link fence at recess.
Our culture defines last as the worst. Last place. Last choice. Last resort, as in “if no other alternatives present themselves, we’ll go to Estacada for vacation”. My devouring of the last brownie was, in part, a pity decision. I knew the kids wouldn’t touch it. They’d think it stale. Being of a riskier palate, I took a chance. I received a reward of chocolatey goodness for my efforts. Feeling as icky as I do, the brownie hit the spot. It tasted just as good, if not better, than the very first one.
See, last doesn’t have to be bad. We have another saying in American culture: “He saved the best for last”. People are never last in a negative sense in God’s mind. In fact, they constitute the Lord’s highest priority, his greatest joy. However in God’s economy, he sometimes does save the best for last (think water into wine at the wedding in Cana). Jesus’ parable sums it up nicely. He loves us all the same, whether we’ve served 50 years or 5 minutes.