Workers in the Vineyard, 1-16

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 20:2 And after agreeing with the workers for the standard wage, he sent them into his vineyard.

This parable underlines the paradoxical nature of God’s kingdom (NBC).  See, esp. v16.

“For”γάρ – links in with Peter’s question in Mt 19:27.

Such hired labourers would have had difficulty making ends meets, for they relied on daily employment.

“A denarius for the day” – A good and normal wage for a rural worker. Additional workers were hired at about 9 A.M., noon, 3 P.M., and 5 P.M.

20:3 When it was about nine o’clock in the morning, he went out again and saw others standing around in the marketplace without work. 20:4 He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and I will give you whatever is right.’ 20:5 So they went. When he went out again about noon and three o’clock that afternoon, he did the same thing.

Marketplace – ‘the central square, where all kinds of business was done and casual labor hired.’ (Carson)

20:6 And about five o’clock that afternoon he went out and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why are you standing here all day without work?’ 20:7 They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go and work in the vineyard too.’

This was an act of generosity: the landowner scarcely needed their labour at such a late hour of the day.

Although not stated, the assumption is that the landowner offered to pay them ‘whatever is right’ (v5); they would have assumed that it would be proportionate to the small amount of work they would be able to do.

20:8 When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give the pay starting with the last hired until the first.’ 20:9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each received a full day’s pay. 20:10 And when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each one also received the standard wage. 20:11 When they received it, they began to complain against the landowner, 20:12 saying, ‘These last fellows worked one hour, and you have made them equal to us who bore the hardship and burning heat of the day.’

When evening came – workers were usually paid at the end of each day.

Their complaint is not that they have been treated unfairly (for they have not) but that these other works have been treated generously.

“Us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” – ‘We have sweated all day in the blazing sun, whereas these others have done only one hour’s work in the cool of the afternoon.’

20:13 And the landowner replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am not treating you unfairly. Didn’t you agree with me to work for the standard wage? 20:14 Take what is yours and go. I want to give to this last man the same as I gave to you. 20:15 Am I not permitted to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“Are you envious…?” – lit. ‘Is your eye evil?’

The landowner is entirely correct, of course: he had hired them at a reasonable and agreed rate.  Their problem is not with his unfairness (for he is not being unfair), but with his generosity towards the other workers.  They show that they have not yet fully understood what grace is, or how it works.

Some Christians today might grumble, not because they think that God has been unfair to them, but because he has been so generous towards others.  A believer who has ‘borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day’, might well feel resentful of an individual who has lived a comfortable, selfish life and then comes to faith in old age.

As Morris says: ‘God acts toward us in sheer grace. There is no question of salvation being an arithmetical process, adding up the good deeds and the bad ones and coming out with salvation or loss according to whether the balance is on the credit or debit side.’

‘That is what the kingdom of heaven is like. God’s grace is not limited by our ideas of fairness; his gifts are far beyond what we can deserve. But, like the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son, we find it hard to abandon our human scale of values (especially when comparing ourselves with others!) and to accept the large-heartedness of God towards those we regard as undeserving.’ (NBC)

20:16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The saying, ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’ (Mt 22:14) have become attached to this verse (as in the AV), but do not belong here.

Third Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, 17-19

20:17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve aside privately and said to them on the way, 20:18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the experts in the law. They will condemn him to death, 20:19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged severely and crucified. Yet on the third day, he will be raised.”
Mt 20:17-19 = Mk 10:32-34 = Lk 18:31-34

‘Significantly, this passion prediction adds the notion of mocking by Gentiles, a horrifying image in a culture emphasizing shame (as in Epict. Disc. 1.4.10) and diametrically opposed to the picture of a militant Messiah triumphing over the nations.’ (IVP Commentary)

‘The disciples had managed to ignore Jesus’ warnings that did not make sense on their cultural and theological presuppositions; undoubtedly they felt that other sayings confirmed their predispositions (19:28). In this respect they were not unlike most Christians today.’ (IVP Commentary)

A Request for James and John, 20-28

20:20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling down she asked him for a favor. 20:21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She replied, “Permit these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 20:22 Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 20:23 He told them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give. Rather, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Mt 20:20–28 = Mk 10:35–45

The mother of Zebedee’s sons – Their names were James and John. ‘She gave Jesus worship, but her real motive was to get something from him. Too often this happens in our churches and in our lives. We play religious games, expecting God to give us something in return. True worship, however, adores and praises Christ for who he is and for what he has done.’ (Life Application Bible)

If their mother was Salome, Mary’s sister, then they were Jesus’ cousins, and might expect special treatment.

‘The sons of Zebedee were James and John, two of the first three of Christ’s disciples; Peter and they were his favourites; John was the disciple whom Jesus loved; yet none were so often reproved as they; whom Christ loves best he reproves most, Rev. 3:19.’ (MHC)

Undesigned coincidence?  ‘Where did Zebedee go? James and John are originally with Zebedee (Matt 4:21) but he appears nowhere later even though their mother is mentioned several times (Mt 20:20; 27:56). This is explained by an unnamed disciple’s father dying (Mt 8:21), especially since the mother is not referred to as the wife of Zebedee.’ (Source)

“You don’t know what you are asking” – ‘You do not know the nature of your request, nor what would be involved in it. You suppose that it would be attended only with honour and happiness if the request was granted; whereas, it would require much suffering and trial.’ (Barnes)

‘James, John and their mother failed to grasp Jesus’ teachings on rewards (19:16-30) and eternal life (20:1-16). They failed to understand the suffering they must face before living in the glory of God’s kingdom. The “cup” was the suffering and crucifixion that Christ faced. Both James and John would also face great suffering. James would be put to death for his faith, and John would be exiled.’ (Life Application Bible)

“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

‘The Old Testament prophets speak darkly about the ‘cup of YHWH’s wrath’ (Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 25:15–29; and several other passages). These passages talk of what happens when the one God, grieving over the awful wickedness of the world, steps in at last to give the violent and bloodthirsty, the arrogant and oppressors, the reward for their ways and deeds. It’s as though God’s holy anger against such people is turned into wine: dark, sour wine which will make them drunk and helpless. They will be forced to ‘drink the cup’, to drain to the dregs the wrath of the God who loves and vindicates the weak and helpless.  The shock of this passage…is that Jesus speaks of drinking this cup himself.’ (Wright)

‘It is good for us to be often putting it to ourselves, whether we are able to drink of this cup, and to be baptized with this baptism. We must expect suffering, and not look upon it as a hard thing to suffer well and as becomes us. Are we able to suffer cheerfully, and in the worst of times still to hold fast our integrity? What can we afford to part with for Christ? How far will we give him credit? Could I find in my heart to drink of a bitter cup, and to be baptized with a bloody baptism, rather than let go my hold of Christ? The truth is, Religion, if it be worth any thing, is worth every thing; but it is worth little, if it be not worth suffering for. Now let us sit down, and count the cost of dying for Christ rather than denying him, and ask, Can we take him upon these terms?’ (MHC)

“We can” – ‘As before they knew not what they asked, so now they knew not what they answered.’ (MHC)

‘To drink from a cup handed to you by the Lord means accepting your lot, a metaphor frequently used in prophetic writings to describe the bitter end of the wicked. The cup, described as containing divine judgment and wrath, is one from which they have no choice but to drink (Job 21:20; Ps 75:8; Isa 51:22; Jer 25:15-26; 49:12; Ezek 23:32-34; Obad 1:16; Hab 2:15-16; Rev 14:8, 10). Jesus used a similar image to indicate his willingness to accept his Father’s purpose for him, which included the suffering of the cross ( Mt 26:42; Jn 18:11). It is apparent that his disciples did not really understand what he meant when they told him that they too could drink of the same cup, although in so doing they unwittingly predicted their own martyrdom (Mt 20:22-23; Mk 10:38-39).’ (DBI)

“You will indeed drink from my cup” – ‘It is quite wrong to think that for the Christian the cup must always mean the short, sharp, bitter, agonizing struggle of martyrdom; the cup may well be the long routine of the Christian life, with all its daily sacrifice, its daily struggle, and its heart-breaks and its disappointments and its tears. A Roman coin was once found with the picture of an ox on it; the ox was facing two things—an altar and a plough; and the inscription read: “Ready for either.” The ox had to be ready either for the supreme moment of sacrifice on the altar or the long labour of the plough on the farm. There is no one cup for the Christian to drink. His cup may be drunk in one great moment; his cup may be drunk throughout a lifetime of Christian living. To drink the cup simply means to follow Christ wherever he may lead, and to be like him in any situation life may bring.’ (DSB)

“To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant” – ‘He leaves them in the dark about the degrees of their glory. To carry them cheerfully through their sufferings, it was enough to be assured that they should have a place in his kingdom. The lowest seat in heaven is an abundant recompence for the greatest sufferings on earth. But as to the preferments there, it was not fit there should be any intimation given for whom they were intended; for the infirmity of their present state could not bear such a discovery with any evenness.’ (MHC)

“These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father”

‘Rank in the day of judgment (5:19) will confound many of our expectations (18:4; 23:11): it will expose the pride of many who are respected in today’s church, while conversely, God’s revelation of the lives of many humble and unknown servants of Christ will bring him much honor.’ (IVP Commentary)

20:24 Now when the other ten heard this, they were angry with the two brothers. 20:25 But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 20:26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 20:27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave—20:28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

‘The other disciples are angry, not because they have a different attitude to greatness, but because they want the top seats themselves!’ (Green)

‘The princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them; that is, over their subjects. “You know that such honours are customary among nations. The kings of the earth raise their favourites to posts of trust and power. They give authority to some over others. But my kingdom is established in a different manner. There are to be no ranks; no places of dominion. All are to be on a level. The rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, the bond, the free, are to be equal. He will be the most distinguished that shows most humility, the deepest sense of his unworthiness, and the most earnest desire to promote the welfare of his brethren.”’ (Barnes)

‘Authority and “greatness” among the disciples of Jesus are the reverse of what the world is used to; true greatness is in service. In this, as in other areas of human values, Jesus has turned the world upside down…Self-importance, the desire to be noticed and respected, the ambition to make one’s mark and to impose one’s will on others, this is the value-scale-scale of the rat-race, not of the kingdom of Christ.’ (R.T. France)

“Servant” – ‘The original word is deacon-a word meaning a servant of any kind; one especially who served at the table; and, in the New Testament, one who serves the church, Acts 6:1-4; 1 Tim 3:8. Preachers of the gospel are called ministers because they are the servants of God and the church, 1 Cor 3:6; 4:1; 2 Cor 3:6 6:4; Eph 4:12; an office, therefore, which forbids them to lord it over God’s heritage; which is the very opposite of a station of superiority, and which demands the very lowest degree of humility.’ (Barnes)

‘Out in the world, said Jesus, it is quite true that the great man is the man who controls others; the man to whose word of command others must leap; the man who with a wave of his hand can have his slightest need supplied. Out in the world there was the Roman governor with his retinue and the eastern potentate with his slaves. The world counts them great. But among my followers service alone is the badge of greatness. Greatness does not consist in commanding others to do things for you; it consists in doing things for others; and the greater the service, the greater the honour. Jesus uses a kind of gradation. “If you wish to be great,” he says, “be a servant; if you wish to be first of all be a slave.” Here is the Christian revolution; here is the complete reversal of all the world’s standards. A complete new set of values has been brought into life.’ (DSB)

‘The world may assess a man’s greatness by the number of people whom he controls and who are at his beck and call; or by his intellectual standing and his academic eminence; or by the number of committees of which he is a member; or by the size of his bank balance and the material possessions which he has amassed; but in the assessment of Jesus Christ these things are irrelevant.’ (DSB)

v28 This is a ‘how much more’ argument: if the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, how much more his disciples.

‘The language here is that of substitutionary atonement…As in Philippians 2:1-11, however, the Evangelists treat us to this summary of Jesus’ mission not to rehearse the doctrine of salvation but to provide an active model for Christian living. To what extent would Jesus serve? Fulfilling the servant’s mission, he would lay down his life on behalf of his people; of disciples he expects no less.’ (IVP Commentary)

‘What Jesus calls upon his followers to do he himself did. He came not to be served, but to serve. He came to occupy not a throne, but a cross. It was just because of this that the orthodox religious people of his time could not understand him. All through their history the Jews had dreamed of the Messiah; but the Messiah of whom they had dreamed was always a conquering king, a mighty leader, one who would smash the enemies of Israel and reign in power over the kingdoms of the earth. They looked for a conqueror; they received one broken on a cross. They looked for the raging Lion of Judah; they received the gentle Lamb of God.’ DSB)

‘Jesus points them to his own example. He was in the form of God in heaven, Php 2:6. He came to men in the form of a servant, Php 2:7. He came not with pomp and glory, but as a man in humble life. And since he came, he had not required them to minister to him. He laboured for them. He strove to do them good. He provided for their wants, fared as poorly as they did, went before them in dangers and sufferings, practised self-denial on their account, and for them was about to lay down his life.’ (Barnes)

‘Greatness in the world is determined by status; in the kingdom by function. In the world greatness is shown by ruling; in the kingdom by serving. In the world’s eyes the great are those who can order others about; in the kingdom they are those who endure hard times and injustice without complaining.’ (Green)

‘The example of our Lord’s humiliation of himself serves to curb all ambition in his ministers…For “Even the Son of Man, “says he, “came not to be ministered unto.’ (David Dickson)

‘Christ in his first coming came not to take up an earthly dominion or a stately pre-eminence as his disciples imagined, but came in the shape and state of servant, and behaved himself so, as he was ready for the good of his disciples to wash their feet; for he came not to reign in a worldly manner, but to serve in the external ministry of the gospel. “He came,” says he, “to minister.” (David Dickson)

‘1. Never was there such an example of humility and condescension as there was in the life of Christ, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. When the Son of God came into the world, his Ambassador to the children of men, one would think he should have been ministered to, should have appeared in an equipage agreeable to his person and character; but he did not so; he made no figure, had no pompous train of state-servants to attend him, nor was he clad in robes of honour, for he took upon him the form of a servant. He was indeed ministered to as a poor man, which was a part of his humiliation; there were those that ministered to him of their substance (Lu. 8:2, 3); but he was never ministered to as a great man; he never took state upon him, was not waited on at table; he once washed his disciples’ feet, but we never read that they washed his feet. He came to minister help to all that were in distress; he made himself a servant to the sick and diseased; was as ready to their requests as ever any servant was at the beck of his master, and took as much pains to serve them; he attended continually to this very thing, and denied himself both food and rest to attend to it. 2. Never was there such an example of beneficence and usefulness as there was in the death of Christ, who gave his life a ransom for many. He lived as a servant, and went about doing good; but he died as a sacrifice, and in that he did the greatest good of all. He came into the world on purpose to give his life a ransom; it was first in his intention. The aspiring princes of the Gentiles make the lives of many a ransom for their own honour, and perhaps a sacrifice to their own humour. Christ doth not do so; his subjects’ blood is precious to him, and he is not prodigal of it (Ps. 72:14); but on the contrary, he gives his honour and life too ransom for his subjects.’ (MHC)

‘Now this is a good reason why we should not strive for precedency, because the cross is our banner, and our Master’s death is our life. It is a good reason why we should study to do good, and, in consideration of the love of Christ in dying for us, not hesitate to lay down our lives for the brethren, 1 Jn. 3:16. Ministers should be more forward than others to serve and suffer for the good of souls, as blessed Paul was, Acts 20:24; Phil. 2:17. The nearer we are all concerned in, and the more we are advantaged by, the humility and humiliation of Christ, the more ready and careful we should be to imitate it.’ (MHC)

See here a twofold purpose in Christ’s coming: he came to give his live as a ransom for many, and in so doing to be an example to his followers. ‘For though we detest that doctrine of the Socinians, which makes the exemplary life of Christ to be the whole end of his incarnation; yet we must not run so far from an error, as to lose a precious truth. We say, the satisfaction of his blood was a main and principal end of his incarnation, according to Mat. 20:28. We affirm also, that it was a great design and end of the incarnation of Christ to set before us a pattern of holiness for our imitation; for so speaks the apostle, 1 Pet. 2:21. “He has left us an example that we should follow his steps.” And this example of Christ greatly obliges believers to his imitation, Phil. 2:5. “Let this mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus.’ (Flavel)

Two Blind Men Healed, 29-34

20:29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed them. 20:30 Two blind men were sitting by the road. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 20:31 The crowd scolded them to get them to be quiet. But they shouted even more loudly, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 20:32 Jesus stopped, called them, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 20:33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 20:34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Mt 20:29–34 = Mk 10:46–52; Lk 18:35–43

This account of the healing of the two blind men should be seen in the context of Jesus about to enter Jerusalem. They two men acknowledge him as ‘Son of David’, v30f, and join the crowd accompanying him into the city.