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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-34

The Labourers in the Vineyard. The Journey to Jerusalem

1-16, Parable of the labourers in the vineyard (peculiar to St. Matthew). This difficult parable is closely linked with what goes before, and can only be understood in connexion with it. It rebukes the spirit of Peter’s enquiry (Matthew 19:27), ’We have left all and followed thee; what then shall we have?’ The Twelve through Peter had demanded a superlatively great reward, because they had been called first and had laboured longest. Such a reward had been promised them, should they prove worthy of it (Matthew 19:28) though at the same time it was darkly hinted, that some outside the apostolic circle would prove in the end more worthy than some of the apostles (Matthew 19:30). Then follows the parable. It is a serjqaon on the text, ’But many shall be last that are first, and first that are last,’ which opens (Matthew 19:30) and closes it (Matthew 20:16). It is addressed primarily to the apostles. It teaches them that great as their merit and their reward undoubtedly are, there will perhaps be others whose merit and reward will be equal or even greater. Thus St. Stephen (not an apostle) was the first to gain the martyr’s crown, St. Paul laboured ’more abundantly than they all,’ Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother ranked with the leading apostles, and many great names in the subsequent history of the Church—Athanasius, Augustine, Jerome, Charlemagne, Alfred the Great, St. Louis—have completely eclipsed the fame of the more obscure apostles. The apostles are warned not to be jealous of the attainments and rewards of other followers of Christ, but to do their own work single-heartedly, and to leave the recompense to God. Another important lesson is taught by the identity of the recompense paid to the various groups of labourers. They all receive the same coin, a denarius, which at this time was regarded as a liberal, but not unusual day’s pay (Tobit 5:14). This does not necessarily signify that there will be no degrees of rank or blessedness in heaven, but it does signify that such degrees, if they exist, will be relatively unimportant. The supreme reward of all, to see God as He is in His unveiled splendour, will be enjoyed by all who are faithful to the end, and those who have this will care little what else they have or have not.

(a) Among the numerous conflicting interpretations of this parable, the following are the most noteworthy. (1) Calvin: a warning not to be over-confident because we have begun our Christian course well. (2) St. Irenaeus: the various bands of labourers are the OT. saints; those last called are the apostles. (3) Greswell: the labourers first called are the Jews; those last called, the Gentiles. (4) St. Chrysostom: it refers to the periods of men’s lives at which they begin to serve God. Some begin in infancy, others in youth, others in manhood, others in old age. It encourages those who have entered late on God’s service, to labour heartily. (b) The following interesting parallel is taken from the Talmud. ’To what was Rabbi Bon like? He was like to a king who hired many labourers, among whom there was one who performed his work extraordinarily well. So the king took him aside, and walked with him to and fro. And when evening was come, those labourers came, and he gave him a complete hire with the rest. And the labourers murmured saying, “We have laboured hard all day, and this man only two hours, yet he hath received as much wages as we.” But the king said to them, “He hath laboured more in those two hours than you in the whole day.” So Babbi Bon plied the Law more in twenty-eight years, than another in one hundred years.’

15. Is thine eye evil?] i.e. Art thou jealous, because I am generous?

16. For many be called, but few chosen] These words are omitted by the RV, probably rightly. If retained, they are very difficult to interpret in such a way as to harmonise with the parable.

17-19. Another prediction of the Passion (Mark 10:32; Luke 18:31). A prophecy remarkable for its detailed character. It mentions Christ’s delivery to the Bomans (’Gentiles’), His mocking, scourging, and crucifixion, and His resurrection on the third day. St. Luke adds, ’And they perceived not what was said’: cp. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22.

20-28. The ambition of the sons of Zebedee (Mark 10:35). The special promise to Peter (Matthew 16:18) had aroused the jealousy of the other two most intimate disciples, who now came to claim the two most prominent of the twelve thrones promised in Matthew 19:28, making no mention whatever of Peter. The incident is a painful one, coming as it does immediately after the warning in the parable, and the prediction of the Passion.

20. The mother] Her name was Salome (Matthew 27:56 compared with Mark 15:40), and it is generally supposed that she was sister to the Virgin, and therefore our Lord’s aunt: see on John 19:25.

21. The right hand was the first place of honour, the left the second: cp. the saying of Rabbi Acha, ’The Holy and Blessed God will cause King Messiah to sit at his right hand, and Abraham at his left.’

22. Ye know not what ye ask] The mere fact that you ask for such a thing, shows that you are at present worthy not of the highest but of the lowest place in the kingdom: see Matthew 20:16, Matthew 20:26. To drink of the cup] ’Cup,’ a metaphor for ’lot in life,’ is here used of Christ’s rejection, persecution, and death: cp. Isaiah 51:17; (’the cup of fury’), Jeremiah 49:12; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:33. To be baptized.. baptized with] Interpolated from Mk; omitted by RV. The ’baptism’ has the same meaning as the ’cup.’

23. Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. James was martyred (Acts 12:2). According to tradition, John had many strange experiences; such as, exile in Patmos, immersion in boiling oil, poison; but survived these ordeals, and died a natural death.

Is not mine to give] i.e. in this way, as a piece of favouritism. Euthymius well says, ’Why is He, who is all powerful, unable to give this? Not from want of power, but from regard to justice. This eminence is reserved for those who are worthy to attain it. For it is not only participation in a death like mine which wins the first seat, but undisputed preeminence in all good qualities.’

25-27. See on Luke 22:25, Luke 22:26.

26 Minister] RM ’servant.’

27. Servant] RM ’bond-servant.’

28. A ransom for many] lit. ’a ransom instead of many.’ An important doctrinal passage showing the importance which Jesus attached to His own death. He regards it as a redemption price, which, since men cannot pay it for themselves, He pays for them, and so releases them from the bondage of sin and death. In the OT. it is the ransom price paid for slaves (Leviticus 19:20), for captives (Isaiah 45:13), and for the ransom of a life (Exodus 21:30; Numbers 35:31).

Many] either indicates all mankind, laying stress upon their multitude, or else those who actually accept redemption, as distinguished from those for whom the redemption price is paid: see Matthew 26:28.

After Matthew 20:28 the Codex Bezae introduces an interesting saying of Jesus which may possibly be authentic: ’But do you seek to become greater from what is less, and less from what is greater? Accordingly when ye have been invited to supper, and enter the house, recline not in the chief places, lest haply one more honourable than thou enter afterwards, and the host (or master of the feast) come and say to thee, “Go down yet lower,” and thou be shamed. But if thou recline in the inferior place, and one inferior to thee comes in, the host will say to thee, “Eat thy supper higher up,” and this shall be profitable to thee.’ Cp. Luke 14:8.

29-34. Two blind men at Jericho (Mark 10:46; Luke 18:35). Two apparent discrepancies call for notice: (1) St. Mark and St. Luke mention only one blind man; (2) St. Luke says that the map was healed as Jesus was entering Jericho, not as he was leaving it. Euthymius says, ’Some say that one of these blind men, Bartimseus, was the more distinguished of the two, and so was mentioned by St. Mark and St. Luke, while the other was passed over as being his attendant, as in the case of the two demoniacs (Matthew 8:28). But my own conjecture is, that one of these blind men is to be identified with St. Mark’s and the other with St. Luke’s, for St. Luke’s blind man was apparently healed when Christ was entering into Jericho, and not when he was leaving it.’ A more modern reconciliation is that the miracle took place between the old town of Jericho and the new city called Phasaelis, built by Herod the Great. The miracle might, therefore, be described with equal propriety as performed when leaving the old town, or when approaching the new.

30. Son of David] i.e. the Messiah: see Matthew 9:27.

31. Rebuked them] not because they disbelieved that Jesus was the Messiah, ’but out of honour to Jesus lest He should be disturbed.’ They cried the more] a lesson in persistence in prayer, and its answer.

34. Followed him] not only in the way, but in the Way (Acts 19:9).

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/matthew-20.html. 1909.
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