First, Last. Last, First.
So the last will be first, and the first will be last Matthew 20:16
There is a true person of no rank who is constantly coming and going from the portals of your face. Who is that true person of no rank? --Linji
Race to the Top
Living without rank, best David, worst David, I am
Life looks like a sport contest, a race to the top -- the most, the best, the biggest. “We’re number 1!” It’s all about the ranking, marching in the hit parade, making our way along life’s course. We have our scales, as we measure worth, tabulate statistics, and weigh ourselves against the other, rank ordering and organizing ourselves against a standard of worthiness/fame/wealth/the best of. This is how we separate ourselves from one another in our relentless pursuit of the brass ring, the Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail, in our climb to the top. This is what we do.
We do it for ourselves as well. When I look at my life I sometimes rank the years. This year is better than this, I was my number one self then, not so great now. It is one way that I have in judging myself, splitting off from myself as I lament the past or imagine a better, maybe even, my best, life. Ranking is a way I have for finding myself cut off from right now and not occupying my life as it is. For this reason...
All this is bound to fail. Think the richest man, Howard Hughes, barricaded inside his Las Vegas hotel room. Or Michael Jackson, or...Richard Nixon, or...or...or…. This is one sort of teaching -- that life reverses itself. You have reached the zenith, climbed the mountain, are outstanding in your field. AND, it is lonely at the top. To this Jesus says, “the first will be last.” In the meanwhile, a young man tends garden at home, digging the beds, harvesting tomatoes and lettuce for supper. After dinner he plays with his children on the floor. Think Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, “God bless us every one,” in Dicken’s Christmas Carol. In this you might hear Jesus, “the last will be first.” A linear reading of Jesus’s “first, last; last first” goes just like that: a vindication of the poor. Humility is better than arrogance; the lofty are bound for a fall. But see how it goes...
With this reading you are still ranking. We still have last and first, first and last. However, Jesus does not speak in lines.
Reversed and then Reversed Again
In The Blue Cliff Record, a compilation of Zen koans, the Master Yunmen says, “One teaching, upside down.” Jesus’ koan, like the optical illusion of the woman and the vase (see above), is constantly reversing itself. First is last, Last is first. Foreground is background, background is foreground. When the first becomes last it then becomes first, and when the last is first it will transition to become last again. There is no first, nor last, no rank. And that is where Jesus goes: No rank..., whatsoever.
Of course, this challenges our assumptions, the way that we rank the world. Holiness is vanquished and Holiness now includes all things -- there is nothing special and there is “nothing not special.” First and last converge. There is no special mind states, relaxation is not better than busy-ness, and there is no state of mind that is not part of wholenessl. Time is in eternity, eternity in time. God is all, and in all. Nothing is set apart or held out from the undivided life, from the eternal. Life is generous like that. Before we rank and separate ourselves from the world, we have everything, we participate in the whole. That is our life.