MATTHEW CHAPTER 20.
Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard.
V. 1. For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. This parable is often called the parable of the hours, since the length of the working-day is an important item in the lesson of the story as told by Jesus. He had been discussing the reward of mercy which was to be given to those that would be firm in the confession of His name, but had added the warning against a foolish depending upon personal merits before God, since this involved the danger of losing the reward. His Church as it appears before men, as its work is being carried out before them and for their salvation, is like unto the ruler of a house, either the housefather or the manager of an estate. Such a one might be found almost any morning, in the very earliest hours, as he was obliged to go out and hire laborers, in order that the ripe fruit might not spoil for want of grape-pickers. Similar cases can be found in great number just before the harvest season in any country.
The hiring: V. 2. And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. V. 3. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place, v. 4. and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. V. 5. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour and did likewise. V. 6. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? V. 7. They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. Some laborers he managed to find at early dawn, and he could hire them so that they were able to go to work at once, the Jewish working-day lasting from six in the morning to six in the evening. Mark well: The word "hire" is emphasized in the parable, since its point is also to bring out the necessity of being actively engaged in labor in the kingdom of God. For a denarius a day the householder hired the workmen; that was the usual day's wage, about fifteen cents in American money, apparently small, until one considers that the value of money was much greater in those days than at the present time. The Roman soldiers received even less. The householder and the laborers agreed on the basis of a penny, or denarius; he offered the sum, and they agreed, the contract thus becoming binding upon both parties. Since they were now in his employ, he sent them out to his vineyard. Three hours later the householder fared forth again, at nine o'clock. At the market-place, the public square in the center of the town, where the unemployed workmen gathered and waited for some master to hire them, he found others standing without employment. In hiring these men, a definite coin or sum was not stipulated, his promise being merely that he would do the right and just thing by them; he would give them what he considered fair wages. Also you, he says; a fair number he had secured at the beginning of the day, but he could use more to advantage. These men agreed to the conditions and went out to work in the vineyard. At high noon and at three o'clock in the afternoon the same process was repeated, with the same contract agreed to in the same way. But the last hiring-trip of the day was especially noteworthy. It was five in the afternoon when it became evident that the work on hand ought to be finished that very evening and that a sufficient number of willing hands might be able to accomplish the task. So once more the master hied himself to the market-place. There he found still others patiently standing. They were without employment, they had wanted work and had not been able to get it. With all possible haste he sends them into his vineyard: You go too, though it be so late. He specifies no reward, no wages. Willingness and speed were essential.
The application of this part of the parable to the work of the kingdom of Christ is not difficult. It teaches us both to avoid envy and to yield honors to those whom the Lord honors. "Whosoever has the gifts of Jesus and knows that we are all equal in Christ, he tends to his work gladly, though he here on earth, for this short time, be in a humbler position and station than some other one. For there it shall be arranged so that in the external life there is a dissimilarity, that one has much, the other little; that one is master, the other servant. That does not bother a Christian, but he says: In God's name, here on earth it shall not be otherwise; though I have a more difficult station than the master or the mistress of the house; though I be not so powerful as a prince, king, or emperor; yet will I not murmur about it, but gladly and willingly remain in my station, until God deals differently with me and also makes me a master or mistress. In the mean time, I comfort myself with this fact that I know neither emperor nor king has another Christ nor more of Christ than I." 158) And so far as the giving of equal rewards of grace to all believers, to all members of the kingdom, is concerned, there shall be no pointing to a greater amount of good works before God, as though they were able to merit anything in His sight. "All work-saints must necessarily have such pride that know nothing of the grace of God and believe to be their own what they are able to do and what they perform, and that the Lord shall not judge according to His goodness, but according to the weight and ponderousness of their works. But whosoever has realized what grace means, he is not surprised, if God gives the same reward for the small and for the great works." 159)
The master's answer: V. 13. But he answered one of them and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? V. 14. Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. V. 15. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil because I am good? V. 16. So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many be called, but few chosen. In choosing one man out of the whole company of murmurers, the master gave all the greater force to his application. Friend, or companion, comrade, fellow, he calls him, my good fellow, my dear neighbor, combining respect with reproof. There could be no accusation of wrong against the householder. The man had received the wages fixed by express contract, to which he had agreed of his own free will. His work was at an end, his payment he had received. The proper thing for him to do was to take up his money and go, not make a disagreeable scene. And the master also answers the objection that had been voiced. It is his pleasure, his distinct will, to give to the last of the workmen, him that came in latest of all, as much money as a free present as he gave to the first one by actual contract. He challenges the right of any one to interfere with his way of spending his money. And just because he gave presents to the one set of workmen, it does not follow that he is obliged to do the same thing in the case of others. Where gifts, presents, and benefits are concerned, there can be no question as to merit and reward. A foolish, unauthorized demand renders unworthy of all consideration. It can be due only to malice, jealousy, and envy, which shows itself in the darkened, unfriendly eye, that one is dissatisfied with the goodness of the master, with the generousness which does more than the situation demands. And so Jesus repeats the lesson of the story, chapter 19, 30: "The last shall be first, and the first last." He that insists upon the recognition of his works and merit before the judgment of the Ruler, will find them woefully inadequate for the capturing of first place. Rather will this demand result in a person's being made the least and the last in the kingdom of God, with the danger of being lost forever.
Christ here shows the peculiar, the singular justice that obtains in the kingdom of God. In temporal affairs, whatever a person accomplishes and merits will be credited to him as a matter of just reward. But the custom of the kingdom of God is different. Whenever the question is broached as to how a person may be justified before God and saved, the grace of God alone decides. He distributes the gifts of His kingdom according to His gracious will, and not according to natural worthiness or unworthiness. True it is that there is a difference between those that are called into the kingdom. Some have borne the heat and burden of the day, have labored most diligently all their lives, have been diligent in all good works, have left and denied many things for the sake of Christ's name. Others have been converted late in life, they have spent a large part of their life in following the vain dreams of the world. In the very evening of their life they have heard and heeded the call of Jesus and have but little time left to show their faith in good works. But so far as their relation to God is concerned, they are on the same level with the first. The one group, as the other, is saved by faith alone. And should there be such people among the first as are proud of themselves, as point with conceit to their good works, to the fact that they have labored successfully in the external kingdom of Christ, as are offended at the goodness and mercy of God toward the lowly, they cannot maintain their position in the Church of mercy. Not being willing to be saved like the publicans and sinners, like the thief on the cross, they lose their salvation altogether; they bring upon themselves condemnation. 160)
This parable of the laborers in the vineyard and the call of the Lord into His kingdom has always been considered a serious and searching lesson, and rightly so. But there is as much loving comfort as serious warning in the story. "This Gospel concerns those that are of the opinion that they are before God the first or the last; therefore it strikes mighty fine people, yea, it terrifies the greatest saints. For this reason Christ also holds it even before the apostles. For here it happens that some person may, in the sight of the world, be poor, weak, despised, yea, for the sake of God suffers, that there is no evidence that he is something, and still in his heart he is secretly full of self-conceit, and believes himself to be the first before God, and for that very reason is the last. On the other hand, if one is so fainthearted and shy that he believes himself to be the last before God, though before the world he has money, honor, and possessions, and is the first for his very meekness." 161)
Christ Again Foretells His Passion. Matt. 20, 17-19.
V. 17. And Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart in the way and said unto them, v. 18. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, v. 19. and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him; and the third day He shall rise again. This is Christ's third prediction concerning His Passion. The first time He had stated only in a general way that He would suffer many things, chapter 16, 21. In the second prophecy His betrayal and delivery into the hands of men had been spoken of chapter 17, 22. Here the sufferings are enumerated in detail; here the men that would be guilty of the atrocious behavior against Him are named. Jesus had set His face steadfastly to journey to Jerusalem. The journey occupied some time, but never once did He falter. He had been in Bethany with His friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, John 11, 38-44. He had then retired for a time to Ephraim, near Bethel, John 11, 54. He now made ready to go to Jerusalem, to the Passover festival, with His disciples, who were amazed and afraid. Mark 10, 32. For this reason, Jesus made an effort to make them see the necessity of His coming Passion, according to the words of the prophets. He took the Twelve alone, by themselves, in order to be altogether undisturbed, and then He made this third announcement. They were going up to Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews, not only because it was situated on a hill, high above the surrounding country, but also because, in the eyes of the Israelites, it was the most elevated, the most sublime city in the world. He names the men that would carry out the damnable design, the chief priests and the scribes. He states in what way it will be done: He will be sentenced to death. But the sentence of death will not be carried out by the murderers, since Gentile people, Gentile soldiers, would deride and scourge and crucify Him. In spite of all this, however, He would finally triumph. He would rise again on the third day. He is the omniscient Son of God, true God Himself, who is willingly going forward into suffering and death. This fact gave to His work of redemption its great value.
The Requests of the Sons of Zebedee. Matt. 20, 20-28.
V. 20. Then came to Him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshiping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him. V. 21. And He said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand, and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom. The two sons of Zebedee, James and John, were among the first disciples of Jesus, Matt. 4, 21. 22. In the early days of their discipleship they were not characterized by the same patience and kindness that was the most prominent attribute of John in later years. They were both impulsive in speech and rash in action. Mark 3, 17. Their mother's name was Maria Salome, a sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, John 19, 25; Luke 8, 2. 3; 23, 55. She belonged to that small band of woman disciples that had ministered to the Lord. She probably had heard the promise that Jesus had made to the Twelve, chapter 19, 28, and had drawn the conclusion that the cousinship of her sons, and the fact that they had been singled out by the Lord for special attentions, warranted her bold request. And her sons, as yet hardly conscious of the meaning of true discipleship, eagerly took up the idea, seconding their mother's plea. She was very importunate about her request; she knelt down at Jesus' feet and begged earnestly, womanlike seeking fulfillment of her wish before stating it. Being asked by Jesus what her desire was, she stated that she wished her sons to occupy the highest places of honor in the Messianic kingdom, for thus the seats on the right hand and on the left hand of the rulers were regarded. As Luther says: "The flesh ever seeks to be glorified before it is crucified; exalted before it is abased."
The answer of Jesus: V. 22. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able. V. 23. And He saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father. Incidents of this nature must have tried the patience of Jesus very sorely, but in His gentleness He tried to correct their carnal idea of the Messianic kingdom by pointing out what the honor which they sought involved. Turning to the sons, He frankly tells them that their conception of the future kingdom of Christ is altogether wrong, that their petition plainly shows their utter ignorance of the spiritual character of the Kingdom. Besides, there was a large measure of arrogant selfishness in their ignoring the probable claims of the other disciples. He tries to open their eyes to their foolishness by asking whether they believe themselves able to share in the fate which would come upon Him according to God's plan of redemption, whether they can drink the bitter cup of suffering, wrath, and damnation which He must drink, Matt. 26, 39. 42, whether they can bear to be submerged in that baptism of blood which would fall to His lot in His last great Passion. Instead of considering this prospect very carefully, they give Him their decided answer at once, declaring their ability thus to share in His Passion. Strange blindness! They knew not what they were taking upon themselves. Slowly, sorrowfully, and impressively Jesus lifts the veil of the future and predicts for them suffering after His own manner. "The great question connected with the sufferings of the Cross was not one of human heroism, or of the capability of endurance, but of inward, divine, and holy preparation. As yet the two disciples were incapable of making this distinction. Hence the Lord declined their sharing His sufferings in the former sense; while at the same time He pointed forward to the period when they should have part in them, in the higher and only true sense. The reply of Christ must therefore be regarded in the light of a correction implying an admission of their calling to suffer with Him; the fact of their being at present unable, in the spiritual sense, to share in His sufferings, being graciously presented in the form of an affirmation that the time for this should arrive." 162) As for the granting of their petition, however, He could give them no satisfaction, could not grant their request. That was not a matter to be decided at this time, in an almost offhand way, but comes under the provision of the Father. His answer does not imply that the Father possessed an authority which He, the Son, did not share. He merely wishes to impress upon them that He will not abuse His power like an earthly ruler in giving posts of honor and authority according to arbitrariness and pleasure, but that the Father has from eternity prepared for them, whom by grace He has chosen unto salvation, a part of the future glory and dominion of His Son. This is true of all disciples. It is necessary that they first suffer with Christ; that is the way to glory. But they can never earn the glory of heaven by the sufferings of this present time. That is God's free gift in Christ Jesus to them that are His.
A lesson in humility: V. 24. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. V. 25. But Jesus called them unto Him and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. V. 26. But it shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; v. 27. and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: v. 28. even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. The disciples were still very human. Since their hearts, therefore, were filled with the same ambitions, with the same jealousy, as those of the two sons of Zebedee, they became violently excited and agitated against James and John. These men had almost succeeded in getting what every one of them was secretly desiring. Jesus was obliged to calm the excited minds. The relation of governors and governed, of rulers and servants in the Church of Christ and among His disciples is entirely different from that of any secular government. The reigning heads of the people in general are accustomed to lord it over their subjects, and the great ones of the world play the tyrant over those in their power. The rule in the kingdom of Jesus is just the reverse, it is not so among the disciples of Jesus. He speaks of the condition of things as it should exist, as we should expect to find it among Christians. Greatness by service is the only measure of greatness that Christ recognizes. If one has the ambition to be great before Christ in the midst of his brethren, his life's aim shall be to be the servant of the others; if he would be reckoned as being first, let him become, literally, and in the best sense of the word, a slave to others. Unselfish ministry, ungrudging service is the mark of true greatness before Christ. Striving for honor and glory before men in no way agrees with the spirit which He displayed throughout His life. For He Himself, equipped with power over all creation, by virtue of His divinity, having the authority to demand service from all man, did not make use of this power, but spent His life in serving. His entire life was a ministry in the interest of all men, culminating in the great sacrifice which is at the same time most mysterious and most glorious: He gave His life as a ransom for many. The whole world was sold into the power of Satan, death, and hell, and there was no salvation on earth. All men were doomed to be chained with the fetters of this slavery to all eternity. But Christ came and gave His own life in their stead, thus ransoming and redeeming all men from the power of the enemies. In view of such a sacrifice, it surely must be out of the question for any follower of Christ to do anything but strive after that same humility, that same spirit of unselfish service. And the pastors, the ministers of Jesus and His Church in a special sense, will gladly follow the example of their great Head. "My office therefore and that of every preacher and pastor does not consist in lording it, but herein, that I serve you all, that ye learn to know God, that ye are baptized, that ye have the true Word of God, and that ye finally may be saved, and do not venture to assume the worldly government, which princes and lords, mayors and judges, shall appoint and take care of. My office is only a service which I should give to every one free and for nothing, seeking neither money nor goods, neither honor nor anything else…. But, indeed, if I do that, then ye are afterwards obliged to do this, that ye support me. For since I should preach and serve you therewith, I cannot in the mean time provide my own food; therefore ye are under obligation to support me, and that entirely for nothing, for whosoever serves the altar, says St. Paul, shall live off the altar." 163)
Healing of Two Blind Men. Matt. 20, 29-34.
The cry: V. 29. And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. V. 30. And, behold, two blind men sitting by the wayside, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, Thou Son of David. V. 31. And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace; but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, Thou Son of David. Jesus did not go to Jerusalem by the direct route, but by way of Jericho, thus gaining opportunity for further works of saving grace and for this double miracle. For Matthew here combines the recital of two healings in one brief account. Jesus undoubtedly entered and left the city by the same gate, that toward the east. When He entered, there was a blind man sitting near the gate, Luke 18, 35-43. And the miracle performed in this case became known during the stay of Jesus and so encouraged blind Bartimaeus, Mark 10, 46-52, that he pleaded for sight in the same words which had proved so potent in the case of his fellow-sufferer. Attracted by the conversion of Zacchaeus and by the teaching of Jesus in the city, a great multitude followed after Him. And in either case, the tumult and the shouting of the passing crowd informed the blind beggar of the passing of the Lord. Their plea is that of the right, of the saving knowledge of the Savior. They recognized and confessed Him as the Son of David, as the promised Messiah, who, in His mercy, could cure them. Mercy only they pleaded for, they felt their unworthiness because of their sin, they realized the necessity of pleading for mercy in the presence of Him who was so infinitely above them. After the manner usually followed in such cases, many of the crowd harshly bade them keep their peace, helpless cripples being regarded as a nuisance and treated accordingly, with heartless severity. But they redoubled their energy in sending forth their cry for mercy and help.
The healing: V. 32. And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you? V. 33. They say unto Him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. V. 34. So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes; and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him. The fact that Jesus took an interest in the blind men at once changed the attitude of the multitude, and many now offered assistance. The cry of faith touched the Lord's heart, their confession of His divine power in answer to His question, their earnest prayer for the opening of their eyes, moved Him with deep compassion. He touched their eyes, and at His miraculous touch their sight was at once restored. Jesus of Nazareth, who by His suffering and death has saved the souls of all men from eternal perdition, has deep compassion also upon the physical troubles and sicknesses of them that believe in Him.
Summary. Christ teaches the meaning of the reward of grace by the parable of the hours, foretells His Passion in greater detail, gives His disciples a lesson in true humility, and heals two blind men.