Luke 13:30 “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
In our modern, consumption-based culture, the idea that we are not defined by our social status, economic situation, or even self-image seems impossible. Who are “the last” that Jesus is talking about? The term “last,” I believe, is vague for a reason. Each person has their own individual idea of who the last in the world are: for some, it is the lonely, for some the poor, for some the sick, and for all these, Jesus promises that they will be first in Heaven. More than likely, the lowly lack the distractions that the successful face, such as their own pride or their own money. Especially at Ivy League universities, we are taught to focus on worldly success to such an extent that if our majors do not equal economic success, they are dismissed.
Instead of moments of calmness and silence, we are pressured to schedule our entire days with resume fillers; instead of peace, we choose to thrive off our stress and boast about how much we are involved in, even as it drains us. There is a simpler way! Jesus Himself stayed in obscurity for thirty years, and even after His missionary days began, He did not aim for worldly success. Throughout his ministry, there are numerous accounts of Jesus instructing those He healed not to tell anyone (Mark 1:44, Luke 8:56)! Even in possession of the very power of God, Jesus remained humble and did not press to be considered first by social standards of the day, even though He is above the angels in Heaven.
The real question is how did Jesus keep this posture in his life even through difficult times?
Firstly, Jesus enjoyed His peace and solitude. Oftentimes, even in the middle of moments of strife, Jesus would retreat and pray in the wilderness. How often do I, amid stress, take a moment of solitude and walk down to the Charles to pray and enjoy the nature that God has built? I never have. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalms 46:10, which begins, “Be still and know that I am God.” This stillness is not just an absence of physical movement, but I think, more so of a mental movement into God’s peaceful presence. More than ever, humans as a species are black holes for entertainment; try sitting at a table with your peers and see who does not go on their phone within the first thirty minutes. Try sitting in the silence of your room with your eyes closed and not reaching for your phone or listening to music. Instead, just be still. The Bible suggests that Jesus enjoyed His moments of peace with God away from all the distractions that surrounded Him. The best part is, this very same peace is available to us at all times whenever we are ready to sit still and delight in the beauty of God.
Secondly, Jesus enjoyed His simplicity. In the wake of the industrial revolution, the Western world became one of consumption instead of production. Our status in society is dependent on what goods we can afford to consume. Jesus, the son of God, was a common carpenter, and even when He was famous, he took nothing from anyone. Paul tells us that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NRSV). Not filling our lives with meaningless stuff allows us to focus more of our attention on the things that matter. For me as a FGLI student, this can be especially difficult. My material needs had never been met at a comfortable enough level that I was able to stop worrying about them. Now, trying to reverse my own thinking and believe the stuff of this world doesn’t matter stands in contrast to my experience growing up. Nonetheless, I am trying to shift my focus to the things that are eternal: the people around me, God, and His plan for me. I do not believe that I will lie on my deathbed and think about all the Clash Royale games I won – and no, not because I did not win very many. Instead, I hope my focus will be on the ones I loved, and on whether I fulfilled my mission that Christ laid out before me. Jesus was focused on his mission and did not need distractions, and if we are to truly be focused on our heavenly mission as well, the more distractions we have, the less effort we will be able to put into it.
God does not care about our worldly success, even if we become the highest-paid doctor, lawyer, or politician. While God may have that in store for us, God’s primary mission is that we obey his will, and if no earthly glamor is in store for us, will we still be ones that bow down to God? The people who lay their treasure up in heaven rather than gathering their material goods on Earth shall be first, in my opinion, because they live a life like Jesus. People who focus on the things of the spirit will have fewer distractions than those focused on their own success.
Ethan Hooper ‘25 is a freshman at Harvard studying Psychology and Sociology