Read Matthew 19:27-20:16.

So the last will be first, and the first will be last. (Matthew 20:16)

“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

“How often should I forgive?”

“We have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?

The disciples have left everything to follow Jesus, and yet there is much for them to learn about themselves. Jesus teaches them by narrative. He puts them in a story and encourages them to think about how they would feel.

An evil person and a good person are standing side by side under a cliff. A rock falls and smashes the good person. How does that make you feel? Do you feel that you deserve good things from God more than other people? That God is there to prolong your life and give you your heart’s desire?

Two friends buy lottery tickets. One wins a million dollars. How does that make you feel? Are you truly happy for your friend’s good fortune? Or have you turned “do unto others” into “do unto me”?

You have an outstanding talent. Your friend is jealous. He sabotages your success. How does that make you feel? Are you angry about the betrayal, about not getting what you deserve, or are you compassionate about his broken character? Do you believe that you have been foiled by an enemy—or led by a loving God?

To what extent are you still driven and motivated by self, by your perceived desires and deserts, by your own plans and powers? Is there space in your heart for God’s sometimes-inscrutable will, for a path though a dark valley? Are you ever able to forget yourself and consider others?

The last will be first, and the first will be last. How does that make you feel? Do you deserve to be first?

~ ~ ~

But case studies only take you so far in education. You also need a practicum—maybe a senior project or an internship. Peter got his during Jesus’ passion. The final, exquisite nail in his cross of self-knowledge was “do you love me?”

~ ~ ~

The kind of self-knowledge that leads to the knowledge of God is very deep. Deeper than you are likely to be able to dig without power tools. You must know your spirit. What is it that you truly love? What moves you? Pray for help in learning to know yourself. God will be happy to give you generous help, if not more than you can handle. Courage is necessary.

You must know not only your self but the gifts of grace in you. You must browse in the garden and smell the flowers—flowers that you may have cultivated, but you certainly didn’t make them grow. You must learn to know the spirit—your spirit, the spirit of the church, the spirit of the team or tribe or nation or world, God’s Spirit. You must learn to tell the flowers from the weeds, even before they blossom. You must become spiritual. You must become Spiritual.

See also:


Harry Plantinga

Harry Plantinga is a professor of computer science at Calvin University and the director of ccel.org and hymnary.org.