Matthew 20
Pulpit Commentary
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
Verses 1-16. - Parable of the labourers in the vineyard. (Peculiar to St. Matthew.) Verse 1. - For. The following parable is intended to illustrate the apophthegm at the end of the last chapter, which is repeated almost in the same words at the close, "Many that are first," etc., and "The last shall be first," etc. It taught the apostles a lesson in answer to Peter's question (Matthew 19:27), "What shall we have therefore?" and the primary lesson was that the reward of the kingdom is not of debt, but of grace. There are many difficulties in the parable, which may be better noticed after we have expounded its literal bearing and details. The kingdom of heaven is like. That is, what happens in the kingdom of heaven is parallel to the case of a householder, etc. The kingdom of heaven is the Church of Christ, whether militant on earth (when the labourers are hired) or triumphant in heaven (when the reward is bestowed). We may refer to Matthew 13:24, 45, where an analogous comparison is found. Early in the morning (ἅμα πρωί); i.e. at the end of the last night watch (see on ver. 3), wishing to secure labourers, who at vintage time were probably in great request. Vineyard. The Church is elsewhere so called by our Lord (Matthew 21:28, 33, etc.), and in the Old Testament (see Psalm 80:8; Isaiah 5:1; Jeremiah 12:10).
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Verse 2. - When he had agreed with the labourers. With those first hired he makes a special agreement for the pay of the day's work; with the others he acts differently. For a penny a day (ἐκ ηηναρίου τὴν ἡμέραν). The denarius (always translated "a penny" in our version) was a silver coin about equal in value to the French franc, but of course in its buying capacities worth in those days a great deal more. We learn from Tacitus ('Annal.,' 1:17) that it was the usual pay of a Roman soldier. It was equivalent to the Greek drachma, which Tobit (5:14) offered to Azarias as daily wages. Our rendering of "a penny" conveys a very erroneous impression to unlearned hearers, both in this passage and in other places where it occurs.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
Verse 3. - The third hour. It seems that at this time the Jews divided the day, reckoned between sunrise and sunset, into twelve equal parts, the length of these divisions varying according to the season. The day in Palestine at longest consisted of fourteen European hours twelve minutes, and at shortest of nine hours forty-eight minutes, so that the difference between the longest and shortest division of the so called Jewish "hour" was twenty-two minutes. It is usual to consider the Hebrew day as lasting from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the sixth hour corresponding to our noon, the first hour being 7 o'clock and the third 9 a.m. This estimate, though not absolutely correct, is near enough to the fact to serve all expository purposes. The four periods mentioned in the parable are quarters of the working day, in which a proportional part of the day's wages might be earned. Standing idle in the marketplace. The Greek agora, the Roman forum, and the Eastern marketplace, was the usual place where idlers and expectant labourers gathered together. Such a scene may often nowadays be witnessed in Oriental cities, and indeed at our own docks, and in many of our small country towns. It must be supposed that the labourers now hired either were not present when the householder first went forth, or that they had then rejected his offer, but now thought better of it. And so, in the case of the others later on.
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Verse 4. - Ye also; implying that he had already set some to work at fixed wages. Whatsoever is right (δίκαιον); just and fair. He offers these no definite sum as remuneration, assuring them only that he will deal equitably with them; i.e. doubtless, according to their view, that he will give them three quarters of a day's wages, paying them pro rata. But at the end he treats them much more generously. Lightfoot notes that the Talmudists had tracts on the payment and regulation of labourers, and in their canons distinguished between being hired for a day and for some hours. They went their way, quite satisfied to leave their remuneration to the householder, with whom probably they were acquainted.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
Verse 5. - Sixth and ninth hour. At midday and 3 p.m., which would give respectively about half a day's and a quarter of a day's work.
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?
Verse 6. - The eleventh hour; the hour before sunset, say about 5 p.m., leaving only one hour for work, when it would be most unusual to engage labourers. Idle. The word is omitted in some manuscripts. There is some reproach in the master's question. Where were they earlier in the day, when he was hiring labourers for his vineyard? Why were they not in the marketplace, like their comrades, looking out for employment? Such questions, like many, others in the parable, are left unanswered. We see from the universal use of the term, "the eleventh hour," to express the close of the day of grace, how widely has prevailed the interpretation of the parable which applies it to the various stages of the life of the individual. (See on this below.)
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.
Verse 7. - No man hath hired us. A poor excuse, because, had they been at their post earlier, work would have been offered them. Go ye also into the vineyard. The householder accepts the excuse, and, now that they are desiring to labour, engages them as the others, promising to give them what is fair. Their present willingness seems to compensate for their previous tardiness. The clause, "whatsoever is right," etc., is omitted by some good manuscripts, the Vulgate, and other versions. Thus no mention of reward is made to these - they were satisfied by being employed at all.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
Verse 8. - When even was come. According to Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 24:15), a hired labourer was to be paid his wages at sunset, i.e. at the twelfth hour. Steward. The lord himself is said to have hired the labourers, but he commits the payment of them to his steward, as his representative, to whom such matters of detail were entrusted. From the last. Those last hired were first to receive their hire (τὸν μισθόν), that which it had been agreed to pay them, in one case "a penny," in the others "that which was just." Why the last are rewarded first is one of the difficulties of the parable. To say that this is done because in their one hour's work they did more than all the rest, is a solution which is supported by nothing in the story itself. It should, in the primary interpretation, rather be conceived as depending on the lord's good pleasure.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
Verse 9. - They received every man a penny. The steward, of course, was acting according to his master's instructions (though nothing is said of any previous orders on the subject) when he thus bounteously remunerated those that had been hired at the eleventh hour. Some commentators have endeavoured to show that the "penny" allotted to each set differed greatly in value; but this is an unwarrantable conjecture, and it is indispensable to the purport of the parable that the wages should be alike to all.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
Verse 10. - They supposed that they should have received more. The text varies between πλεῖον (plus, Vulgate) and πλείονα, the former implying "a greater sum" than the stated hire, the latter hinting indefinitely at "more" things, more in number. Seeing the liberal payment given to the others, they expected some increase in the wages offered to themselves, or an additional remuneration of some kind.
And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Verse 11. - They murmured. They complained aloud of the injustice to which, as they thought, they were subjected. This is one of those traits in the parable which, whatever its spiritual meaning may be, is most natural and life like.
Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
Verse 12. - These last have wrought but one hour; μίαν ὥραν ἐπσίησαν: una hora fecerunt (Vulgate); have spent but one hour (Revised Version). The verb ποιεῖν is used with nouns of time in the sense of "spend," "pass," as in Ruth 2:19 (Septuagint); Acts 15:33, etc. They speak of the late workers contemptuously (οὑτοι οἱ ἔσχατοι), "these fellows who are last." They do not allow that they laboured - they "made" one hour nominally. Equal unto us. Bengel notes, "Envy does not demand more for itself, but wishes that others should have less." Their complaint is that others who have worked less are not docked of their wages in due proportion. Burden and heat of the day; τό βάρος τῆς ἡμέρας καὶ τὸν καύσωνα: the burden of the day and the scorching heat (Revised Version). The latter word is used for the hot dry wind which, blowing from the east, was fatal to vegetation and prejudicial to human comfort, if not to life. The remonstrance of these men may be compared with that of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:29, 30). They how somewhat of the spirit of the apostles when they asked, "What shall we have therefore?" (Matthew 19:27).
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Verse 13. - He answered one of them. The Lord condescended to show, not to all the labourers, but to one of them - the ringleader probably - the futility of the ground of his murmur. Christ often explains himself to his friends, while he refuses further elucidation to enemies and the hardened. Friend (ἑταῖρε). Not a term of affection, or special good will, but one of indifference, addressed to an inferior. It was the word used to Judas (Matthew 26:50) when he came to betray his Lord, "Friend, wherefore art thou come?" I do thee no wrong. The labourer had really nothing to complain of in strict justice; he had received the full amount of the stipulated wages. But he very naturally felt that he had not been fairly dealt with. He would say to himself, "If one hour's work, and that in the cool of the evening, is deemed worth a penny, surely a whole day's labour, in the full heat of the sun, ought to deserve a higher remuneration." The difficulty here must be felt by every one. Nor is the master's solution perfect; it would scarcely commend itself to the dissatisfied murmurer. And doubtless it is not intended to be complete.
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Verse 14. - Take that thine is; thine own. Take your agreed wages, and go; there is nothing more to be said. I will (θέλω δέ) give; but it is my will to give. The lord defends his conduct on the ground that such is his will and pleasure. By it he injures nobody, he benefits many; who should presume to censure him?
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
Verse 15. - With mine own; ἐν τοῖς ἐμοῖς: in the case of what is mine own. These words are omitted by the Vulgate, which has, Aut (η}) non licet mihi quod volo facere? Is thine eye evil? The evil eye is here expressive of envy, as Proverbs 28:22. The Latin word invidia, Cicero informs us ('Tusc. Disp..' 3:9), "ductum est a nimis intuendo fortunam alterius." For nimis Bentley conjectures limis, "with sidelong glances." The idea is the same, envy being indicated by the look of the eye. Good; generous. Why should you view with disfavour my liberality? The master says no more; he gives no further account of his determination.
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Verse 16. - So the last, etc. The parable concludes with the saying with which it began (Matthew 19:30), but with some inversion in the order of the words. There it was, "Many first shall be last; and last first;" here it is, The last shall be first, and the first last. The circumstances of the parable necessitate this change. The last called were first paid, and were equal to the first in recompense; the first were behind the others in time of payment, and in the spirit with which they received their wages; they were also treated with less generosity than the others. For many be called...chosen (Matthew 22:14). This clause is omitted by א, B, and other manuscripts; but it has good authority, and is most probably genuine. It is added in explanation or justification of the preceding statement. From not seeing its applicability, and regarding it as opposing the intention of the parable, some transcribers and some editors have expunged it from the text. But it would seem that Christ takes occasion from the particular case in the parable to make a general statement, that not all who are called would receive reward; because many would not answer the call, or would nullify it by their conduct; not, as Theophylact says, that salvation is limited, but men's efforts to obtain it are feeble or negative. In other words, many outwardly members of the kingdom of God are unworthy of, and shall not share in, its spiritual blessings. Chosen. Many, that is virtually all, are chosen; but there is an election within the election, and they only who are of this inner circle shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. The interpretation of the parable. - As in all parables, so here, we are to regard the general scope, and not lay too much stress on details, which often, while adding to the vividness of the picture, contribute nothing to its spiritual side. The explanation of this difficult parable has greatly exercised the minds of commentators in all ages of the Church, and various have been the views with which its bearing has been regarded. We may, however, select two expositions which seem to embody most of the suggestions advanced, and are in themselves most reasonable. The first considers it as of individual application - the call of God coming to the soul at different ages of life. Thus the householder is God, the marketplace the world, the vineyard the visible Church, the labourers are men who have to do their work therein, the steward is Christ, who superintends and rewards the faithful workers. The hours of the day represent the various periods of men's life at which they hear and answer God's call to a closer walk with him, when, as modern theology terms it, they are converted. Some, at the first hour, from their very infancy, live a pure and holy life; some at the third hour, in early youth, begin to serve God effectually; others at midday, in full maturity; others at the ninth hour, when old age is creeping on them; and lastly others obey the call only at the eleventh hour, at the very approach of death. And all who have laboured at all, without regard to the length of service, receive the "penny," i.e. not some indefinite temporal benefit, but eternal life, which in a general sense (without considering the difference of degrees which shall exist) is the same for all. The apparent unfairness of this recompense, if we take a merely human view of the transaction, is obvious. They who have lived a life of holiness, and they who have given to God only the dregs of their ill-spent days, receive the same salvation. The difficulty is removed in two ways. We may say that the capacity for receiving and enjoying the reward depends ca the recipient, and that what to one would be infinite bliss and satisfaction, to another would offer far inferior enjoyment. Or we may take refuge in the mysteriousness of God's arrangements, and hold that the considerations in accordance with which God apportions his rewards are known only to him, and are truly, and are intended to be, beyond human understanding. Further, if the hours represent the stages of human life at which Christians are called, surely, to make the parable concinnous, they ought to be the same persons who are invited on each occasion, not different ones. We should be told, not that the householder found others wanting work, and sent all thus found into the vineyard; but that some of those called at the various hours refused the work and scoffed at his offer, while others after a time accepted it, and at the approach of the night all the idle remnant consented to labour, thankful at last to win wages for little trouble. But the parable says nothing of all this, and would need much alteration to make it speak so. There is another difficulty which has to be met, if the above interpretation is adopted. How are we to explain the murmuring of the discontented labourers? There can be no envy and displeasure in heaven. It is not conceivable that any who have obtained the gift of eternal life should be dissatisfied with their reward or jealous of others. This is not a mere accessory which is outside the spirit of the story, and adds no item to its mystical signification; it is really the leading feature, and the householder's own interference and reproof are based entirely on this behaviour of the first called. If the "penny" signifies eternal life, and the labourers are all the called, there is no satisfactory explanation of this part of the parable. The murmur is heard after the reception of the reward, and is censured accordingly; these things could not be found in the Church triumphant; none can murmur there; if they did feel envy and discontent, they would not be worthy of a place in the kingdom. Therefore another interpretation must be advanced which will allow the proper importance to this detail of the parable. The only one that does this is that which gives a national, not simply an individual, bearing to the story. According to this exposition, it applies to the calling of the Jews and the Gentiles, though there are still particulars which do not entirely or without some violence suit the application. The "penny" which all receive is the favour of God, the privileges that crown and reward the members of his kingdom. God's ancient people were first called to work in his vineyard. The various hours of the day cannot be accurately explained. Many interpreters follow St. Gregory in defining the first hour as extending from Adam to Noah, the third from Noah to Abraham, the sixth from Abraham to Moses, the ninth from Moses to the coming of Christ, the eleventh from the coming of Christ to the end of the world. During all the day, up to the eleventh hour, the call was confined to the Jews and their progenitors; in the eleventh hour the Gentiles are called, and, accepting the call, receive the same privileges as the Jews. It is better to forego any attempt to interpret the various hours and the various sets of labourers definitely, except to observe that the first called, with whom a covenant was made, plainly represent the Jews, the people called under the covenant of works, who were to be rewarded according to their service; the other workers are not paid stipulated wages; they receive ("I will give") reward of free grace in accordance with God's inscrutable appointment. That the Jews murmured at the admission of the Gentiles to the kingdom of God and the Father's favour, we are taught in many places. The discontent of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son is a case in point. So in Acts 13:45, 46, the Jews are filled with envy that the Word should be spoken to and accepted by heathens, and St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:16) complains that the Jews forbade him and his fellow apostles "to speak to the Gentiles, that they might be saved." Our Lord looks forward to and prepares his disciples for this envious and ungenerous behaviour, as he continually teaches that the gospel is for all men everywhere, confined to no people or country, but free as the air of heaven or the light of the all-fostering sun. These Gentiles are the last in time, but by their willing service and obedience in the faith are made first; while God's ancient people, once the first, become by their jealousy and hatred of others the last. "There (ἐκεῖ) shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:28, 29). This momentous change in the relation of the peculiar people to the rest of the world was thus foretold and prepared for. And the lesson ends with the mournful fact, read by the eye of the Omniscient, that though virtually all the Jews were called, yet but a small remnant will accept the gospel - the elect of grace, a little flock. By this parable, regarded in its primary application as a reply to Peter's question (Matthew 19:27), "What shall we have therefore?" the apostles are warned that they are not to expect as their due something supereminent over those called later than themselves; that the reward is not of merit, but of free grace. This last thought pervades the whole similitude, and must be borne carefully in mind, whether we take the individual, or the national, or any other mixed interpretation.
And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
Verses 17-19 - Third and fuller prediction of Jesus sufferings and death. (Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34.) Verse 17. - Going up. This is the usual expression for travelling to the capital, and was particularly appropriate to a journey to Jerusalem, which was set among hills. This last journey of the Redeemer was indeed a steep ascent, the end of which was Calvary. Took (παρέλαβε, took to himself)... apart (κατ ἰδίαν). He was accompanied by many followers, but what he had now to impart was not intended to be divulged to all, but was reserved for the chosen twelve. The mass could not have heard it without offence. In the way. The Vulgate omits these words. The Revised Version, on good authority, alters the received order, reading, and in the way he said unto them. Thus Christ prepared the apostles for the coming time of trial, after they had shown fuller faith in his Godhead.
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,
Verse 18. - Behold. This exclamation would seem to indicate that the events predicted were very near at hand, as it were, already in sight. Shall be betrayed; παραδοθήσεται: shall be delivered; the same word as in the next verse. God "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). The special agent of this betrayal is not here named. Of his future crime, Judas, one of the twelve, had probably no thought, the devil not having yet put it into his heart. The chief priests (see on Matthew 16:21). Shall condemn him. This was the act of the Sanhedrin, who could doom, but could not execute (John 18:31). The announcement of his death and resurrection had already been made at least twice before - once after Peter's great confession (Matthew 16:21), and again at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:12, 22, Mark 9:9, 12).
And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
Verse 19. - The Gentiles. Pilate and the Romans (Matthew 27:2). This fact would show the treatment he was to expect, and the death he was to die. To mock, and to scourge (see Matthew 27:26, 28-30). To crucify. This is the first time that Jesus distinctly announced his death by crucifixion. The fact of his death he had impressed upon his apostles, but the mode had. not been mentioned; such an unexpected, awful, and ignomiuious close was incredible. and needed special preparation ere it could be received as true. Intimations, indeed, of such a death had been given darkly, when his disciples were told that they must take up the cross and follow him, or when he spoke of being "lifted up" like the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14); but his words were not understood; they fell upon ears prejudiced to a certain erroneous conviction, which events alone could eradicate. He shall rise again (see on Matthew 16:21). It seems to us almost incredible that, after all that Christ said here and elsewhere, his resurrection should have come upon his followers as a surprise which they could not believe without tangible proof. But when we read of their dulness and unbelief; we are constrained to admire the candour and sincerity of narrators, who record such facts to their discredit without evasion or apology. As St. Luke says, "They understood none of these things; and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken."
Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
Verses 20-28. - Ambitious request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee. (Mark 10:35-45.) Verse 20. - Then. The incident seems to have arisen from the promise of the twelve thrones in Matthew 19:28, and is significant as showing how utterly misunderstood was the true nature of the Messianic kingdom. The mother of Zebedee's children. The mother of James and John was named Salome (Matthew 27:56 compared with Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1); she had left her husband Zebedee (Mark 1:20) in Galilee (unless, as is more probable from the terms in which she is introduced, he was now dead), and followed Jesus in the band of holy women who attended on him and ministered to him of their substance. Some have thought that she was the sister of the Virgin Mary, so interpreting John 19:25. St. Mark makes the two apostles present their own request; and doubtless they put their mother forward, coming with her to the presence of Jesus, and using her agency in this somewhat delicate matter. Our evangelist was present on the occasion, and his precision may be relied on in this detail. Worshipping him. Making the customary prostration before a superior. A certain thing (τι). She did not at first make any definite request, but endeavoured to get Jesus to promise to grant her what she asked. According to St. Mark, the sons say plainly, "We would that thou shouldest do for us whatever we shall desire." Thus Bathsheba addressed David. "I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay" (1 Kings 2:20). Salome is plainly intending to ask some great thing.
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.
Verse 21. - What wilt thou. Jesus will make no unconditional promise; he compels her to formulate her petition. Grant; εἰπέ: command. These my two sons. She points to them, as they stood or knelt behind her. May sit... in thy kingdom. The right and left hand would be the places occupied by those next to the sovereign in dignity and consideration. There is here no thought of St. Peter's pre-eminence (comp. 1 Kings 2:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Psalm 45:9; Psalm 110:1). The petition was urged at this moment, because it was felt that a great crisis was at hand. This visit to Jerusalem must have momentous results; here Jesus was about to set up his throne; now was the moment to secure the highest places in his court. He had announced his death; he had also announced his glory; they balanced one declaration against the other, and seized on that which was most consonant to their national prejudices and their own ambitious views. Probably they interpreted the unintelligible resurrection to mean the establishment of the kingdom of Messiah (Luke 19:11). If this was imminent, no time was to be lost in making their claims known. So thought the "sons of thunder," and acted with energy and haste.
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.
Verse 22. - Ye know not what ye ask. Jesus addresses, not the mother, but the two brothers who had prompted and virtually made the request. They indeed merited a rebuke for their preposterous demand; but the Saviour deals mildly with them. They had spoken ignorantly, perhaps fancying that some favour might be shown to them on the ground of their relationship to the Virgin Mary, or because of their nearness to Jesus, and certainly not in the least realizing the nature of the kingdom, the qualifications of its inheritors, or the difficulties that have to be surmounted by those who would win eminent positions therein. Things that we deem most desirable would often be the very worst for our spiritual progress; and in praying for really good things, we are apt to forget to count the cost we must pay for their attainment. Jesus sets before the ambitious brethren the obstacles that would meet them. Are ye able to drink of the cup? Joy and sorrow, blessing and affliction, in Holy Scripture are often denoted under the metaphor of a cup (comp. Psalm 11:6; Psalm 23:5; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15). Here the cup signifies the internal, mental, and spiritual sufferings which Christ endured (Matthew 26:39, 42). That I shall drink of; ο{ ἐγὼ μέλλω πίνειν: which I am about to drink; or am purposing to drink. Christ expresses his voluntary intention of suffering bitterly, and asks if they are prepared to do the same. To he baptized, etc. The baptism is significant of the external pains and persecutions, in the sea of which he was to be sunk (comp. Psalm 69:2, 15). The cup and the baptism adumbrate the two sacraments by which we are made one with Christ. Many of the best manuscripts, the Vulgate and other versions, omit this last clause, and the corresponding one in the following verse; and many modern editors, with the Revised Version, expunge it also. It is supposed to have been introduced from the parallel passage in St. Mark. There it is undoubtedly genuine; so we have good warrant to believe that our Lord spoke the words, whether St. Matthew really reported them or not. We are able. They came forward now and answered in simplicity, not understanding that to which they pledged themselves. They loved their Master, they knew that trials awaited him, and they were willing to share his lot. Ere long they were put to the proof, and in the end came out victorious.
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.
Verse 23. - Ye shall indeed drink, etc. Jesus accepts their venture of faith, and prophesies its fulfilment. St. James first shared in Christ's baptism of blood, being murdered by Herod (Acts 12:2). He was a martyr in will and deed. St. John did not, indeed, undergo a violent death, but he stood by the cross and felt his Master's sufferings; he lived a long life of persecution, banishment, and distress; he saw all his companions drop off one by one, till in extreme old age he was left solitary, with nothing to comfort him but the memory of vanished years, and the hope of an eternal future. Truly he was a martyr in will, if not in deed. The story that he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil by Nero's command, and that, coming forth unhurt, he was afterwards banished to Patmos, is one which, except as regards the banishment, has not. been accepted by modern criticism. The event is mentioned by Tertullian ('De Praescript.,' 36.), Jerome ('Adv. Jovin.,' 1:26; and 'Comm. in Matthew' 20:27), and is commemorated in the Church Calendar on May 6, under the title of "S. Joh. ante Port. Lat.;" but it appears to have been a legend that first appeared in Tertullian's work, and was copied from him by other writers without examination. Is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom (ἀλλ οϊς) it is prepared. The Authorized Version inserts δοθήσεται; the Revised," But it is for them for whom it hath been prepared." The Vulgate has, Non est meum dare vobis, sed quibus paratum est a Patre meo. Probably ἀλλὰ here is equivalent to εἰ μὴ, as in Matthew 17:8 and Mark 9:8, and means "except," "unless." The Lord does not mean that he was not able to give it, if so he thought fit, or that the boon was solely at his Father's bestowal, not his (which he might have said, speaking in his human nature). What he affirms is this: The prize is awarded, not by favour or on any earthly considerations, but by absolute justice, and only to those who prove themselves worthy to receive it. Christ assigns to the Father the revelation of mysteries and the election to eternal life (see Matthew 11:26; Matthew 16:17). It is prepared; it hath been prepared (Matthew 25:34), according to certain impartial laws ordained by God, who is no respecter of persons. "The throne," says St. Bernard, "is the price of toils, not a grace granted to ambition; a reward of righteousness, not the concession of a request."
And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
Verse 24. - Were moved with indignation against (περί); concerning. "The ambition of one creates envy in others who partake of the same feeling" (I. Williams). The displeasure of the ten arose from their sharing in the ambitious desires which had prompted the request of the brothers. Peter does not appear prominently here, as guarding the position which Romanists assign to him.
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.
Verse 25. - Called them unto him. The two had stood apart when they made their request, but the ten had overheard it, or judged of its nature from Christ's answer and their own feelings. Jesus now gathers them all round him, and gives them a lesson which they all needed, first, concerning worldly greatness and pre-eminence, and secondly (ver. 26), concerning Christian greatness and pre-eminence. Ye know. He appeals to common experience. Exercise dominion over them; i.e. over the Gentiles. Κατακυριεύουσιν, lord it over - significant of an absolute and oppressive domination. Exercise authority upon them; i.e. over the Gentiles (κατεξουσιάξουσιν); use authority harshly and severely. The heathen, when they are raised to pre-eminence, employ their power cruelly and in order to gain their own ends and purposes, and aspire to superiority only with such objects in view. Such ambition is essentially a heathen passion, and wholly alien from the spirit of Christ.
But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
Verse 26. - It shall not be so among you. There is good authority for reading "is" instead of "shall be." The new order of things was already prepared. In Messiah's kingdom a contrary rule holds good. There the governors rule solely for the good of the flock, with no self-seeking, and serving no private interests. Whosoever will be (ο{ς ἐὰν θέλη... γενέσθαι: whosoever would fain become) great among you... minister (διάκονος). Taking for granted that there will be ranks and gradations of office in the Church, Christ lays down the rule that men become governors therein in order that they may serve their brethren, be the ministers of those who are subject to them. So the pope, in his official documents, with a verbally proper humility, terms himself, "Servus servorum Dei."
And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
Verse 27. - Whosoever will be (qe/lh""... εϊναι) chief (first, πρῶτος)... servant (bondservant, δοῦλος). The characteristic of the Christian ruler should be humility. Christ enforces the teaching of the previous verse more emphatically by altering the terms in which it was stated. "Great" now becomes "first;" "minister," "slave." Of these two last words the former would imply rather occasional service, to meet some temporary call; the latter, the regular business of a slave bound to his master at all times. We do not gather from this passage that the Christian minister, called by God, is to take his doctrine from his congregation, or to be directed by them in his labours; but he is to devote time, talents, faculties, to the good of his flock, to spend and be spent in their service, to let no private interests or pursuits interfere with his manifold duties to those whom he oversees. The same sentiment is found in Matthew 23:11.
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
Verse 28. - Even as. Christ adduces his own example as a pattern of profound humility. To minister. By his incarnation Christ assumed the lowliest life of man. He took upon himself the form of a servant, and was ever active in ministering to others' wants, going about doing good, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons; always accessible, sympathetic, merciful; never weary of teaching, however fatigued in body; a servant to the race which he came to save. A ransom for many; λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν: instead of many. The crowning example of his humility is that he gave his life as a ransom for the souls of men. This is the atonement, the sacrificial act, which (as the Mosaic sacrifices did in a partial and temporary manner) reconciled God and man. Whatever may be the way in which this atonement acts on the Divine mind, the expression here shows that it was vicarious and propitiatory, energizing, not by example, as an effort of superhuman self-denial, courage, and patience, but by an inherent power, as mysterious as it is efficacious. We can only say that, being the act of one who is God, its effects must necessarily be incomprehensible and infinite. The difficulties that beset this doctrine are increased by the fact that Jesus himself says little about the atoning nature of his sufferings and death - a topic which would not at this time have been properly received by friends or enemies, the former refusing to credit his approaching death, the latter being totally unable to conceive how such death could supersede Jewish sacrifices and reconcile the whole world to God (Sadler). Christ certainly died for all, as St. Paul says, "He gave himself a ransom for all (ἀντίλυτρον ὑπὲρ πάντων)" (1 Timothy 2:6), but all do not accept the offered salvation; hence arise the two expressions, "all" and "many," referring to the same object; "not," as an old Father says, "that salvation is limited, but men's efforts to obtain it are limited." The same expression was used by our Lord at the Last Supper, when he said, "This is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28). A comparison of the passages in which the death of Christ is connected with the salvation of men would show a similar interchange of terms, depending on the view which the writer is taking of the doctrine, whether an objective one or a subjective. In the former case we may cite Romans 5:15; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2; in the latter, Romans 3:25, 26; Ephesians 5:2.
And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.
Verses 29-34. - Healing of two blind men at Jericho. (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43.) The miracle narrated in this passage is common to the three synoptists, but with some remarkable differences, not one of them agreeing altogether in details. St. Matthew speaks of two blind men, St. Luke and St. Mark of one only, and the latter mentions this one by name as Bartimaeus. St. Matthew and St. Mark make the miracle performed as Jesus quitted Jericho; St. Luke assigns it to the approach to the city. Thus the number of the cured and the locality of the miracle are alike variously stated. It is an easy solution to say, with St. Augustine, Lightfoot, and Greswell, that two, or perhaps three, distinct facts are here related; and it is not absolutely impossible. though altogether improbable, that in the same locality, under identical circumstances, like sufferers made the same request, and received the same relief in the same manner. But we are not driven to this extravagant hypothesis; and the unity of the narrative can be preserved without doing violence to the language of the writers. As to the number of the blind men, we have seen the same discrepancy in the case of the demoniacs at Gadara solved by supposing that one of the two was the more remarkable and better known than the other. Hence, in this incident, the tradition followed by some of the synoptists preserved the memory of this one alone, who may have become known in the Christian community as a devoted follower of Jesus, the other passing into obscurity and being heard of no more. Another hypothesis is that a single blind man first addressed Christ as he entered Jericho, but was not cured at that time. Jesus passed that night in the city at the house of Zacchreus (Luke 19:1-10); and on the morrow, when leaving Jericho, was again entreated by the blind man, who meantime had been joined by a companion, and healed them both. There are other solutions offered, e.g., that there were two Jerichos - an old and a new town - and that one blind man was healed as they entered one city, and the other as they left the other; or that the term rendered "was come nigh" (Luke 18:35) might mean "was nigh," and might therefore apply to one who was leaving as well as to one entering the city. But we weary ourselves in vain in seeking to harmonize every little detail in the Gospel narratives. No two, much less three, independent witnesses would give an identical account of an incident, especially one which reached some of them only by hearsay. Inspiration extends not to petty circumstances, and the credibility of the gospel depends not on the rectification of such minutiae. Verse 29. - Jericho. The Lord was on his way to Jerusalem to meet the death which he was willing to undergo, and to win the victory which he was by this path to accomplish. His route lay through Jericho, as the march of his forerunner Joshua had led. Joshua had set forth to conquer the promised land; Jesus sets forth to win his promised inheritance by the sword of the Spirit. "The upland pastures of Peraea were now behind them," says Dr. Geikie, speaking of the approach to Jericho ('The Life of Christ,' 2:384), "and the road led down to the sunken channel of the Jordan, and the 'divine district' of Jericho. This small but rich plain was the most luxuriant spot in Palestine. Sloping gently upwards from the level of the Dead Sea, 1350 feet under the Mediterranean, to the stern background of the hills of Quarantana, it had the climate of Lower Egypt, and displayed the vegetation of the tropics. Its fig trees were pre-eminently famous; it was unique in its growth of palms of various kinds: its crops of dates were a proverb; the balsam plant, which grew principally here, furnished a costly perfume, and was in great repute for healing wounds; maize yielded a double harvest; wheat ripened a whole month earlier than in Galilee, and innumerable bees found a paradise in the many aromatic flowers and plants, not a few unknown elsewhere, which filled the air with odours and the landscape with beauty. Rising like an amphitheatre from amidst this luxuriant scene, lay Jericho, the chief place east of Jerusalem, at seven or eight miles distant from the Jordan, on swelling slopes, seven hundred feet above the bed of the river, from which its gardens and groves, thickly interspersed with mansions, and covering seventy furlongs from north to south, and twenty from east to west, were divided by a strip of wilderness. The town had had an eventful history. Once the stronghold of the Canaanites, it was still, in the days of Christ, surrounded by towers and castles. A great stone aqueduct of eleven arches brought a copious supply of water to the city, and the Roman military road ran through it. The houses themselves, however, though showy, were not substantial, but were built mostly of sun-dried bricks, like those of Egypt; so that now, as in the similar case of Babylon, Nineveh, or Egypt, after long desolation, hardly a trace of them remains." A great multitude. A vast crowd of pilgrims, bound for Jerusalem to keep the Passover, accompanied Jesus and his disciples. The number of people that this great festival attracted to the central place of worship seems to us incredibly large. Josephus ('Bell. Jud.,' 6:09. 3) reckons them at three millions. Doubtless our Lord was followed by many of those whom he had benefited, and others whom he had won by his teaching; and these, at any rate, would witness the ensuing miracle.
And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.
Verse 30. - Two blind men. St. Matthew is doubtless accurate in this statement. Tradition might easily drop one of the sufferers in the course of time, but it is not likely to have multiplied one into two. These sufferers had heard of the miracles of healing performed by Jesus in his various circuits, and especially of the late cure at Jerusalem of one born blind, and they were ready to believe in his power and to profit by his mercy. Heard. The beggars (Mark 10:46), debarred from sight, had their attention aroused by the tread of numerous feet, and the voices of the excited crowd, and naturally asked the bystanders to tell them what it all meant. When they heard that Jesus was there, the hope of relief immediately rushed into their mind. Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David! "O Lord" is only the usual respectful address of an inferior to one in higher station; but to call on Jesus as "Son of David" was virtually to acknowledge him to be the Messiah, who, as old prophets foretold, was to open the eyes of the blind (Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5). The same cry had been raised by the blind men who were cured earlier in the ministry (Matthew 9:27), and by the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:22, where see note), How these men had learned the truth we know not; they could not see or read for themselves; their faith must have come by hearing, and the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit.
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.
Verse 31. - Rebuked them, because (ἵνα, in order that) they should hold their peace. The motive of the crowd, in thus silencing the blind men, has been explained in two ways - either they grudged that Christ should be addressed by the high title of "Son of David;" or they desired to spare him unseemly importunity and unreasonable interruption in his journey. As the multitude show no signs of hostility at this time, the latter suggestion seems most probable. They cried the more. The attempted check only made them more earnest in their entreaty. The opportunity now offered might never present itself again. The officious interference of unsympathizing bystanders was at once brushed aside. They could attract Christ's attention only by their passionate cry, and this they continued to utter with renewed energy. Faith resists opposition and triumphs over all impediments.
And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?
Verse 32. - Jesus stood still. He acknowledged the title of "Son of David," and, as the blind men could not follow him, he stopped his progress; their perseverance won his acceptance; he was ready to listen to their appeal and to grant their request. Called them. The gracious summons left them in no doubt as to the happy issue of their prayer. St. Mark speaks of the joyful alacrity with which the blind man obeyed the call; how he "cast away his garment, sprang up, and came to Jesus." What will ye that I shall do unto you? The Lord knew the desire of their hearts, but he wished to draw forth the public confession of their needs, and the distinct blessing which they craved, that all the bystanders might acknowledge the miracle, and the sufferers themselves might be incited more vehemently to urge their plea, and thus become more worthy of relief. So God knows all our necessities before we ask, but he will have our prayers, that we may cooperate with him in the work which he purposes to accomplish.
They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
Verse 33. - That our eyes may be opened. So another blind man said, when asked the same question (Mark 10:51). They had at first asked vaguely for mercy, now they prayed definitely for sight - an example to all to make their supplications for particular graces and mercies, and not to be content with general terms which do not describe their special wants.
So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
Verse 34. - Touched their eyes. Only St. Matthew mentions this action of our Lord; but in all other cases of the cure of blindness the healing touch of the Man accompanied the word of the God (comp. Matthew 9:29; Mark 8:23; John 9:6), and Christ did not now depart from his usual practice. Thus, as we have noticed before, he connected the cure with himself. He proved that his flesh taken unto the Godhead was life-giving, remedial, efficacious; and he confirmed the faith of the sufferers and bystanders by showing that there was no deceit or collusion. The other synoptists give Christ's assurance to the men, that the restoration of their sight was the reward of faith - a faith exhibited by the invocation of Jesus as "Son of David," by continued importunity amid surrounding difficulties, by confidence in his power and willingness to heal brought to a point by Christ's question, "What will ye that I shall do unto you?" They followed him. A fact only less remarkable than the miracle that led to it. The impulse of a grateful heart drew them along the road which the Saviour travelled. They may have accompanied him to Jerusalem, and joined the applauding multitude which escorted him to the holy city, and employed their new power of sight in observing that wonderful spectacle which the next few days afforded. One, at any rate, of these men, Bartimaeus, seems to have become known in the early Church as a devoted follower of Christ, and hence his name is recorded for all time in the sacred narrative.

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