Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day; then he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters. Last of all, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called one, because I persecuted the church of God. - 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, excerpts
Whenever we’re recognizing people for something and coming to the end of our list, we’ll often say “Last, but not least…” We don’t want anyone feeling minimized for bringing up the rear. But last often feels like least anyway, especially when you’re standing alone on the playground after the captains have chosen up sides.
Nobody loves being last. And if Paul had been a different kind of leader, he might’ve played fast and loose with the story to make himself look better. He could’ve claimed he was first, not last; an early adopter, not a clueless latecomer.
But Paul wasn’t ashamed of being the very last appointment on Jesus’ calendar. And not only the last, but also the least. The least admirable, the least likely, the least deserving—a persecutor of the church who slipped in under the wire only because of the most merciful of mercies.
Hundreds saw Christ ahead of him, but for Paul being first would never be as precious or as decisive as having been so vastly loved, so kindly salvaged, so turned around on the Damascus road.
Last of all, he says, not ashamed but amazed. Last and least, he appeared to me. Even to me.
Which is to say, even to us all.
We too are latecomers, O living Christ, and undeserving. Yet you come to us also. Even to us, with healing, pardon, and peace. Praise to you, and glory!
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.