Verse 31 of our passage, which is the “Verse to Remember” for today’s study, is one of those difficult sayings of Jesus that bewilder us: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Tax collectors and prostitutes…the worst of society at that time. Eugene Peterson, using language common in 1993, translated it “crooks and whores.” Today we might say “thieves and sex workers.”
The point is that the people at the top of Jesus’s kingdom guest list were the people society thought least deserved the honor. They lied. They cheated. They deceived. They tempted and manipulated and made money in distasteful ways. Why would Jesus let them into the kingdom at all, much less allow them to come in first before honest, hardworking, reputable people…like you and me?
Because they knew they needed Jesus. Because they were earning a living that still left them empty inside. Because they felt incomplete and sensed that he could make them whole.
Sometimes people like you and me, who believe that we are faithful and honorable and committed, are actually just comfortable and complacent and stagnant. We might fall to the bottom of the guest list because we really don’t understand how much we need Jesus. When life goes smoothly and we have enough money and few worries, there’s no reason for us to take a desperate job. But we may also act as if there’s no reason for us to stand humbly before Christ. That kind of attitude makes us like “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (v. 23) who kept questioning Jesus and trying to make him look foolish in order to make themselves feel better.
Where do we want to be on Jesus’s kingdom guest list? If we’d like to be included at the top (or anywhere on the list, really), we’ll have to realize that we can never deserve that honor. We’ll have to look at “the least of these” around us (see Matt 25) and put them before ourselves, knowing that Jesus is always among them. We’ll have to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord (Jas 4:10), be still and know that God is God (Ps 46:10), and become like little children (Matt 18:3).
For people like most of us studying these Bible lessons, cultivating this kind of humility is a lot harder than it sounds. May God work on our hearts and minds to make us humble—not just so we can find our names on the guest list but so we can recognize that we are nothing without Jesus.
• How does it feel to read that Jesus will welcome the outcasts of society into the kingdom of God first?
• Read Matthew 25:31-46. This familiar passage speaks volumes about humility. How might some of us fall into the category of the goats, even when we think we’ve done such good work for Jesus?
• When is it easy to forget how much we need Jesus?
• What practical things can we do to remind us of our humility?
• How can we avoid becoming proud of our humility and thus losing it?
Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.
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