So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called,
but few chosen.
Matt. 20: 16.
The two words "last" and "first" must be considered from
two viewpoints. The first before men are the last before God,
and the last in the eyes of men are first in the eyes of God. On
the contrary, the first before God are the last before men; and
those whom God esteems as the last are considered by men to
be the first. This gospel does not speak of first and last in a
common, ordinary sense; but it means those who imagine they
are the first or the last in the eyes of God; the words ascend
very high and apply to the better classes of people; they terrify
the greatest of saints. Behold, how Saul fell! How God
permitted David to fall! How Peter had to fall! Why is it
that so many sects have arisen? No doubt, because they were
self-secure and without fear, considering themselves the first.
Hence they must become the last.
The substance of this gospel is that no mortal is so high,
nor will ever ascend so high, as to have no occasion to fear that
he may become the very lowest. On the other hand, no mortal
lies so low as not to have the hope extended him that he may
become the highest; because here all human merit is abolished
and God's goodness alone is praised, and it is decreed as on a
festive occasion that the first shall be last and the last first.
In that he says, "the first shall be the last," he strips thee of all
thy presumption and forbids thee to exalt thyself above the
lowest outcast, even if thou wert like Abraham, David, Peter
or Paul. On the other hand, in that he says, "the last shall
be first," he checks thee against all doubting, and forbids thee
to humble thyself below any saint, even if thou wert Pilate,
Herod, Sodom and Gomorrah. For just as we have no reason
to be presumptuous, so we have no cause to doubt; but the
golden mean is here confirmed and fortified by this gospel, so
that we look not upon the penny but the goodness of the householder,
who is the same and alike to high and low, to the first
and the last, to saints and sinners, and no one can boast nor
comfort himself nor presume more than another.