Anytime I pass a church like First Presbyterian or First Baptist, I picture early American Christians running as fast as they can to a new territory and yelling “We’re first!”. Were those who founded the second or third Methodist Church bummed they didn’t make it to town sooner? And what is the highest number church in a city? I have never seen a fourth or fifth Baptist Church.
If you think about it scripturally, those churches who weren’t established first really do have an edge. Consider Matthew 20:16: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” I suppose that verse wasn’t considered when “first” churches were named. I hope you aren’t getting your feathers ruffled by my lively imagination. I have not done any research on the matter, nor do I have any negative attitudes towards churches based on their name or number. It’s only a lighthearted introduction to some of my thoughts on coming in second.
As an elementary teacher, I see daily how natural it is to want to be first. Being at the head of the line is like a sport to most kids. Some students will watch the clock and jokey for position ten to fifteen minutes ahead of time. You have to appreciate that kind of dedication. When the teacher says, “line up class” they better step out of the way if they know what’s good for them. I used to have a colleague that quoted, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” before lining her class up. I can’t say it had any effect on some children.
Jesus lived and taught that we must be ok with not being first. In Luke 7, Jesus shows up to a dinner party where he is dead last. Everyone else at the party has an esteemed education, nice clothes, and are influential in their city. They also had clean feet (which was the custom) before eating dinner. Jesus was offered no water to wash his feet because they didn’t consider him their equal.
A sinful woman, a woman who would have never even been invited to this dinner party, made her way to the table where Jesus sat and washed his feet with her tears and her hair. She kissed his feet and rubbed perfume on them. It was an uncomfortable scene for the Pharisees in which the last became first and the first became last. The Pharisees, as educated as they were, thought it was beneath them to offer their lesser guest a foot washing. But a woman of even lower standing kissed his feet.
The Pharisees esteemed themselves with their places at the table, but Jesus saw his place at the table as the place of honor because of what this woman did for him. The world has a very different definition of what it means to be honored and distinguished, but to Jesus it looks like last. Though our inclination is to want to be first in everything, how do you handle being second or even dead last? As we follow Jesus’ example and learn to be the last and the least with grace, we are humbled yet highly favored.