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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Golden Chain Commentary on the GospelsGolden Chain Commentary

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Verses 1-16

Ver 1. "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.2. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.3. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the market-place,4. And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.5. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.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?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.8. 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.9. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.10. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.11. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,12. 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.13. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?14. Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.15. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?16. So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."

Remig.: To establish the truth of this saying, "There are many first that shall be last, and last first," the Lord subjoins a similitude.

Pseudo-Chrys.: The Master of the household is Christ, whose house are the heavens and the earth; and the creatures of the heavens, and the earth, and beneath the earth, His family. His vineyard is righteousness, in which are set divers sorts of righteousness as vines, as meekness, chastity, patience, and the other virtues; all of which are called by one common name righteousness.

Men are the cultivators of this vineyard, whence it is said, "Who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard." For God placed His righteousness in our senses, not for His own but for our benefit. Know then that we are the hired labourers. But as no man gives wages to a labourer, to the end he should do nothing save only to eat, so likewise we were not thereto called by Christ, that we should labour such things only as pertain to our own good, but to the glory of God. And like as the hired labourer looks first to his task, and after to his daily food, so ought we to mind first those things which concern the glory of God, then those which concern our own profit. Also as the hired labourer occupies the whole day in his Lord’s work, and takes but a single hour for his own meal; so ought we to occupy our whole life in the glory of God, taking but a very small portion of it for the uses of this world. And as the hired labourer when he has done no work is ashamed that day to enter the house, and ask his food, how should not you be ashamed to enter the church, and stand before the face of God, when you have done nothing good in the sight of God?

Greg., Hom. in Ev., xix, 1: Or; The Master of the household, that is, our Maker, has a vineyard, that is, the Church universal, which has borne so many stocks, as many saints as it has put forth from righteous Abel to the very last saint who shall be born in the end of the world. To instruct this His people as for the dressing of a vineyard, the Lord has never ceased to send out His labourers; first by the Patriarchs, next by the teachers of the Law, then by the Prophets, and at the last by the Apostles, He has toiled in the cultivation of His vineyard; though every man, in whatsoever measure or degree he has joined good action with right faith, has been a labourer in the vineyard.

Origen: For the whole of this present life may be called one day, long to us, short compared to the existence of God.

Greg.: The morning is that age of the world which was from Adam and Noah, and therefore it is said, "Who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard." The terms of their hiring He adds, "And when he had agreed with the labourers for a denarius a day."

Origen: The denarius I suppose here to mean salvation.

Remig.: A denarius was a coin anciently equal to ten sesterces, and bearing the king’s image. Well therefore does the denarius represent the reward of the keeping of the decalogue. And that, "Having agreed with them for a denarius a day," is well said, to shew that every man labours in the field of the holy Church in hope of the future reward.

Greg.: The third hour is the period from Noah to Abraham; of which it is said, "And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing in the market-place idle."

Origen: The market-place is all that is without the vineyard, that is, without the Church of Christ.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For in this world men live by buying and selling, and gain their support by defrauding each other.

Greg.: He that lives to himself, and feeds on the delights of the flesh, is rightly accused as idle, forasmuch as he does not seek the fruit of godly labour.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or; The "idle" are not sinners, for they are called dead. But he is idle who works not the work of God. Do you desire to be not idle? Take not that which is another’s; and give of that which is your own, and you have laboured in the Lord’s vineyard, cultivating the vine of mercy. It follows, "And he said unto them, Go ye also into my vineyard." Observe that it is with the first alone that He agrees upon the sum to be given, a denarius; the others are hired on no express stipulation, but "What is right I will give you." For the Lord knowing that Adam would fall, and that all should hereafter perish in the deluge, made conditions for him, that he should never say that he therefore neglected righteousness, because he knew not what reward he should have. But with the rest He made no contract, seeing He was prepared to give more than the labourers could hope.

Origen: Or; He did not call upon the labourers of the third hour for a complete task, but left to their own choice, how much they should work. For they might perform in the vineyard work equal to that of those who had wrought since the morning, if they chose to put forth upon their task an operative energy, such as had not yet been exerted.

Greg.: The sixth hour is that from Abraham to Moses, the ninth that from Moses to the coming of the Lord.

Pseudo-Chrys.: These two hours are coupled together, because in the sixth and ninth it was that He called the generation of the Jews, and multiplied to publish His testaments among men, whereas the appointed time of salvation now drew nigh.

Greg.: The eleventh hour is that from the coming of the Lord to the end of the world. The labourer in the morning, at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, denotes the ancient Hebrew people, which in its elect from the very beginning of the world, while it zealously and with right faith served the Lord, ceased not to labour in the husbandry of the vineyard. But at the eleventh the Gentiles are called. For they who through so many ages of the world had neglected to labour for their living, were they who had stood the whole day idle.

But consider their answer; "They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us;" for neither Patriarch nor Prophet had come to them. And what is it to say, "No man hath hired us," but to say, None has preached to us the way of life.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For what is our hiring, and the wages of that hiring? The promise of eternal life; for the Gentiles knew neither God, nor God’s promises.

Hilary: These then are sent into the vineyard, "Go ye also into my vineyard."

Raban.: But when they had rendered their day’s task, at the fitting time for payment, "When even was come," that is, when the day of this world was drawing to its close.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Consider, He gives the reward not the next morning, but in the evening. Thus the judgment shall take place while this world is still standing, and each man shall receive that which is due to him. This is on two accounts. First, because the happiness of the world to come is to be itself the reward of righteousness; so the award is made before, and not in that world. Secondly, that sinners may not behold the blessedness of that day, "The Lord saith unto his steward," that is, the Son to the Holy Spirit.

Gloss., non. occ., sed vid. Raban.: Or, if you choose, the Father saith unto the Son; for the Father wrought by the Son, and the Son by the Holy Spirit, not that there is any difference of substance, or majesty.

Origen: Or; "The Lord said to his steward," that is, to one of the Angels who was set over the payment of the labourers; or to one of those many guardians, according to what is written, that "The heir as long as he is a child is under tutors and governors." [Gal 4:2]

Remig.: Or, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the master of the household, and also the steward, like as He is the door, and also the keeper of the door. For He Himself will come to judgment, to render to each man according to that he has done. He therefore calls His labourers, and renders to them their wages, so that when they shall be gathered together in the judgment, each man shall receive according to his works.

Origen, Heb 11, 40: But the first labourers having the witness through faith have not received the promise of God, the lord of the household providing some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. And because we have obtained mercy, we hope to receive the reward first, we, that is, who are Christ’s, and after us they that wrought before us; wherefore it is said, "Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first."

Pseudo-Chrys.: For we always give more willingly, where we give without return, seeing it is for our own honour that we give. Therefore God in giving reward to all the saints shews himself just; in giving to us, merciful; as the Apostle speaks, "That the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy;" [Rom 16:9] and thence it is said, "Beginning from the last even unto the first."

Or surely that God may shew His inestimable mercy, He first rewards the last and more unworthy, and afterwards the first; for of His great mercy He regarded not order of merit.

Aug., de Spir. et Lit. 24: Or; The lesser are therefore taken as first, because the lesser are to be made rich.

Greg.: They get alike a denarius who have wrought since the eleventh hour, (for they sought it with their whole soul,) and who have wrought since the first. They, that is, who were called from the beginning of the world have alike received the reward of eternal happiness, with those who come to the Lord in the end of the world.

Pseudo-Chrys.: And this not with injustice. For he who was born in the first period of the world, lived no longer than the determined time of his life, and what harm was it to him, though the world continued after his leaving it? And they that shall be born towards its close will not live less than the days that are numbered to them. And how does it cut their labour shorter, that the world is speedily ended, when they have accomplished their thread of life before?

Moreover it is not of man to be born sooner or later, but of the power of God. Therefore he that is born first cannot claim to himself a higher place, nor ought he to be held in contempt that was born later. "And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying." But if this we have said be true, that both first and last have lived their own time, and neither more nor less; and that each man’s death is his consummation, what means this that they say, "We have borne the burden and heat of the day?" Because to know that the end of the world is at hand is of great force to make us do righteousness. Wherefore Christ in His love to us said, "The kingdom of heaven shall draw nigh." [Matt 4:2]

Whereas it was a weakening of them to know that the duration of the world was to be yet long. So that though they did not indeed live through the whole of time, they seem in a manner to have borne its weight. Or, by the burden of the day is meant the burdensome precepts of the Law; and the heat may be that consuming temptation to error which evil spirits contrived for them, stirring them to imitate the Gentiles; from all which things the Gentiles were exempt, believing on Christ, and by compendiousness of grace being saved completely. Greg.: Or; To bear the burden and heat of the day, is to be weaned through a life of long duration with the heats of the flesh. But it may be asked, How can they be said to murmur, when they are called to the kingdom of heaven? For none who murmurs shall receive the kingdom, and none who receives that can murmur.

Chrys.: But we ought not to pursue through every particular the circumstances of a parable; but enter into its general scope, and seek nothing further. This then is not introduced in order to represent some as moved with envy, but to exhibit the honour that shall be given us as so great as that it might stir the jealousy of others.

Greg.: Or because the old fathers down to the Lord’s coming, notwithstanding their righteous lives, were not brought to the kingdom, this murmur is theirs. But we who have come at the eleventh hour, do not murmur after our labours, forasmuch as having come into this world after the coming of the Mediator, we are brought to the kingdom as soon as ever we depart out of the body.

Jerome: Or, all that were called of old envy the Gentiles, and are pained at the grace of the Gospel.

Hilary: And this murmur of the labourers corresponds with the frowardness of this nation, which even in the time of Moses were stiff-necked.

Remig.: By this one to whom his answer is given, may be understood all the believing Jews, whom he calls friends because of their faith.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Their complaint was not that they were defrauded of their rightful recompense, but that the others had received more than they deserved. For the envious have as much pain at others’ success as at their own loss.

From which it is clear, that envy flows from vain glory. A man is grieved to be second, because he wishes to be first. He removes this feeling of envy by saying, "Didst thou not agree with me for a denarius?"

Jerome: A denarius bears the figure of the king. You have therefore received the reward which I promised you, that is, my image and likeness; what desirest thou more? And yet, it is not that [p. 685] thou shouldest have more, but that another should have less that thou seekest. "Take that is thine, and go thy way."

Remig.: That is, take thy reward, and enter into glory. "I will give to this last," that is, to the gentile people, according to their deserts, as to thee.

Origen: Perhaps it is to Adam He says, "Friend, I do thee no wrong; didst thou not agree with me for a denarius? Take that thine is, and go thy way." Salvation is thine, that is, the denarius. "I will give unto this last also as unto thee." A person might not improbably suppose, that this last was the Apostle Paul, who wrought but one hour, and was made equal with all who had been before him.

Aug., de Sanc. Virg., 26: Because that life eternal shall be equal to all the saints, a denarius is given to all; but forasmuch as in that life eternal the light of merits shall shine diversely, there are with the Father many mansions; so that under this same denarius bestowed unequally one shall not live longer than another, but in the many mansions one shall shine with more splendour than another.Greg.: And because the attainment of this kingdom is of the goodness of His will, it is added, "It is not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" For it is a foolish complaint of man to murmur against the goodness of God. For complaint is not when a man gives not what he is not bound to give, but if he gives not what he is bound to give; whence it is added, "Is thine eye evil because I am good?"

Remig.: By the eye is understood his purpose. The Jews had an evil eye, that is, an evil purpose, seeing they were grieved at the salvation of the Gentiles. Whereto this parable pointed, He shews by adding, "So the first shall be last, and the last first;" and so the Jews of the head are become the tail, and we of the tail are become the head.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or; He says the first shall be last, and the last first, not that the last are to be exalted before the first, but that they should be put on an equality, so that the difference of time should make no difference in their station. That He says, "For many are called, but few chosen," is not to be taken of the elder saints, but of the Gentiles; for of the Gentiles who were called being many, but few were chosen.

Greg.: There be very many come to the faith, yet but few arrive at the heavenly kingdom; many follow God in words, but shun Him in their lives. Whereof spring two things to be thought upon. The first, that none should presume ought concerning himself; for though he be called to the faith, he knows not whether he shall be chosen to the kingdom.

Secondly, that none should despair of his neighbour, even though he see him lying in vices; because he knows not the riches of the Divine mercy.

Or otherwise. The morning is our childhood; the third hour may be understood as our youth, the sun as it were mounting to his height is the advance of the heat of age; the sixth hour is manhood, when the sun is steady in his meridian height, representing as it were the maturity of strength; by the ninth is understood old age, in which the sun descends from his vertical height, as our age falls away from the fervour of youth; the eleventh hour is that age which is called decrepit, and doting.

Chrys.: That He called not all of them at once, but some in the morning, some at the third hour, and so forth, proceeded from the difference of their minds He then called them when they would obey; as He also called the thief when he would obey. Whereas they say, "Because no man hath hired us," we ought not to force a sense out of every particular in a parable. Further, it is the labourers and not the Lord who speak thus; for that He, as far as it pertains to Him, calls all men from their earliest years, is shewn in this, "He went out early in the morning to hire labourers."

Greg.: They then who have neglected till extreme old age to live unto God, have stood idle to the eleventh hour, yet even these the master of the household calls, and oftentimes gives them their reward before other, inasmuch as they depart out of the body into the kingdom before those that seemed to be called in their childhood.

Origen: But this, "Why stand ye here all the day idle?" is not said to such as having "begun, in the spirit," [Gal 3:3] have been "made perfect by the flesh," as inviting them to return again, and to live in the Spirit. This we speak not to dissuade prodigal sons, who have consumed their substance of evangelic doctrine in riotous living, from returning to their father’s house; but because they are not like those who sinned in their youth, before they had learnt the things of the faith.

Chrys.: When He says, The first shall be last, and the last first," He alludes secretly to such as were at the first eminent, and afterwards set at nought virtue; and to others who have been reclaimed from wickedness, and have surpassed many. So that this parable was made to quicken the zeal of those who are converted in extreme old age, that they should not suppose that they shall have less than others.

Verses 17-19

Ver 17. And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,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,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."

Chrys., Hom., lxv: The Lord leaving Galilee, did not go up straightway to Jerusalem, but first wrought miracles, refuted the Pharisees, and taught the disciples concerning perfection of life, and its reward; now when about to go up to Jerusalem, He again speaks to them of His passion.

Origen: Judas was yet among the twelve; for he was perhaps still worthy to hear in private along with the rest the things which his Master should suffer.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For the salvation of men entirely rests upon Christ’s death; nor is there any thing for which we are more bound to render thanks to God, than for His death. He imparted the mystery of His death to His disciples for this reason, namely, because the more precious treasure is ever committed to the more worthy vessels. Had the rest heard of the passion of Christ, the men might have been troubled because of the weakness of their faith, and the women because of the tenderness of their nature, which such matters do commonly move to tears.

Chrys.: He had indeed told it, and to many, but obscurely, as in that, "Destroy this temple;" [John 2:19] and again, "There shall no sign be given it but the sign of Jonas the Prophet." [Matthew 12:39] But now He imparted it clearly to His disciples.

Pseudo-Chrys.: That word "Behold," is a word of stress, to bid them lay up in their hearts the memory of this present. He says, "We go up;" as much as to say, Ye see that I go of My free-will to death. When then ye shall see Me hang upon the cross, deem not that I am no more than human; for though to be able to die is human; yet to be willing to die is more than human.

Origen: Meditating then of this, we ought to know that often even when there is certain trial to be undergone, we ought to offer ourselves to it. But forasmuch as it was said above, When they persecute you in one city, flee ye to another," [Matthew 10:23] it belongs to the wise in Christ to judge when the season requires that he shun, and when that he go to meet dangers.

Jerome: He had often told His disciples of His passion, but because it might have slipped out of their recollection by reason of the many things they had heard in the mean while, now when He is going to Jerusalem, and going to take His disciples with Him, He fortifies them against the trial, that they should not be scandalized when the persecution and shame of the Cross should come.

Pseudo-Chrys.: For when sorrow comes at a time we are looking for it, it is found lighter than it would have been, had it taken us by surprise.

Chrys.: He forewarns them also in order that they should learn that He comes to His passion wittingly, and willingly. And at the first He had foretold only His death, but now that they are more disciplined, He brings forth yet more, as, "They shall deliver him to the Gentiles."

Raban: For Judas delivered the Lord to the Jesus, and they delivered Him to the Gentiles, that is to Pilate, and the Roman power. To this end the Lord refused to be prosperous in this world, but rather chose to suffer affliction, that He might shew us, who have yielded to delights, through how great bitterness we must needs return; whence it follows, "To mock, and to scourge, and to crucify."

Aug., City of God, xviii, 49 In His Passion we see what we ought to suffer for the truth, and in His resurrection what we ought to hope in eternity; whence it is said, "And shall rise again the third day."

Chrys.: This was added, that when they should see the sufferings, they should look for the resurrection.

Aug., de Trin., iv, 3: For one death, that namely of the Saviour according to the body, was to us a salvation from two deaths, both of soul and body, and His [p. 689] one resurrection gained for us two resurrections. This ratio of two to one springs out of the number three; for one and two are three.

Origen: There is no mention that the disciples either said or did any thing upon hearing of these sufferings that should thus come upon Christ; remembering what the Lord had said to Peter, they were afraid they should have had the like or worse addressed to themselves. And yet there be scribes who suppose that they know the divine writings, who condemn Jesus to death, scourge Him with their tongues, and crucify Him herein, that they seek to take away His doctrine; but He, vanishing for a season, again rises to appear to those who received His word that it could be so.

Verses 20-23

Ver 20. Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.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."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."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."

Jerome: The Lord having concluded by saying, "And shall rise again the third day;" the woman thought that after His resurrection He should forthwith reign, and with womanish eagerness grasps at what is present, forgetful of the future.

Pseudo-Chrys.: This mother of the sons of Zebedee is Salome, as her name is given by another Evangelist, [marg. note: Mark 15, 40; 16, 1] herself truly peaceful, and the mother of sons of peace. From this place we learn the eminent merit of this woman; not only had her sons left their father, but she had left her husband, and had followed Christ; for He could live without her, but she could not be saved without Christ.

Except any will say that between the time of the Apostle’s calling, and the suffering of Christ, Zebedee was dead, and that thus her sex helpless, her age advanced, she was following Christ’s steps; for faith never grows old, and religion feels never weary. Her maternal affection made her bold to ask, whence it is said, "She worshipped Him, and desired a certain thing of Him;" i. e. she did Him reverence, requesting that what she should ask, should be granted her.

It follows, "He said unto her, what wouldest thou?" He asks not because He knows not, but that by its very statement, the unreasonableness of her petition might be shewn; "She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit."

Aug., de Cons. Ev., ii, 64: What Matthew has here represented as being said by the mother, Mark relates that the two sons of Zebedee spake themselves, when she had presented their wish before the Lord; so that from Mark’s brief notice [marg. note: Mark 10:35] it should rather seem, that they, and not she, had said that which was said.

Chrys.: They saw the disciples honoured before others, and had heard that "ye shall sit upon twelve thrones," [Matthew 19:28] whereupon they sought to have the primacy of that seat. And that others were in greater honour with Christ they knew, and they feared that Peter was preferred before them; wherefore (as is mentioned by another Evangelist) because they were now near to Jerusalem, they thought that the kingdom of God was at the door, that is, was something to be perceived by sense. Whence it is clear that they sought nothing spiritual, and had no conception of a kingdom above.

Origen: For if in an earthly kingdom they are thought to be in honour who sit with the king, no wonder if a woman with womanish simplicity or want of experience conceived that she might ask such things, and that the brethren themselves being not perfect, and having no more lofty thoughts concerning Christ’s kingdom, conceived such things concerning those who shall sit with Jesus.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or otherwise. We affirm not that this woman’s request was a lawful one; but this we affirm, that it was not earthly things, but heavenly things that she asked for her sons. For she felt not as ordinary mothers, whose affection is to the bodies of their children, while they neglect their minds; they desire that they should prosper in this world, not caring what they shall suffer in the next, thereby shewing themselves to be mothers of their bodies only, but not of their souls.

And I imagine that these brethren, having heard the Lord prophesying of His passion and resurrection, began to say among themselves, seeing they believed; Behold, the King of heaven is going down to the realms of Tartarus, that He may destroy the king of death. But when the victory shall be completed, what remains but that the glory of the kingdom shall follow?

Origen: For when sin is destroyed, which reigned in men’s mortal bodies, with the entire dynasty of malignant powers, Christ shall receive exaltation of His kingdom among men; that is, His sitting on the throne of His glory. That God disposes all things both on His right hand and on His left, this is that there shall be then no more evil in His presence.

They that are the more excellent among such as draw near to Christ, are they on His right hand; they that are inferior, are they on His left hand. Or by Christ’s right hand look if you may understand the invisible creation; by His left hand the visible and bodily. For of those who are brought nigh to Christ, some obtain a place on His right hand, as the intelligent, some on His left hand, as the sentient creation.

Pseudo-Chrys.: He that gave Himself to man, how shall He not give them the fellowship of His kingdom? The supineness of the petitioner is in fault, where the graciousness of the giver is undoubted. But if we ourselves ask our master, perchance we wound the hearts of the rest of our brethren, who though they can no longer be overcome by the flesh, seeing they are now spiritual, may yet be wounded as carnal.

Let us therefore put forward our mother, that she may make her petition for us in her own person. For though she be to be blame therein, yet she will readily obtain forgiveness, her sex pleading for her. For the Lord himself, who has filled the souls of mothers with affection to their offspring, will more readily listen to their desires. Then the Lord, who knows secrets, makes answer not to the words of the mother’s petition, but to the design of the sons who suggested it. Their wish was commendable, but their request inconsiderate; therefore, though it was not right that it should be granted to them, yet the simplicity of their petition did not deserve a harsh rebuke, forasmuch as it proceeded of love of the Lord.

Wherefore it is their ignorance that the Lord finds fault with; "Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask."

Jerome: And no wonder, if she is convicted of inexperience, seeing it is said of Peter, "Not knowing what he said." [Luke 9:33]

Pseudo-Chrys.: For ofttimes the Lord suffers His disciples either to do or to think somewhat amiss, that from their error He may take occasion to set forth a rule of piety; knowing that their fault harms not when the Master is present, while His doctrine edifies them not for the present only, but for the future.

Chrys.: This He says to shew either that they sought nothing spiritual, or that had they known for what they asked, they would not have asked that which was so far beyond their faculties.

Hilary: They know not what they ask, because there was no doubt of the future glory of the Apostles; His former discourse had assured them that they should judge the world.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, "Ye know not what ye ask:" as much as to say, I have called you to My right hand away from My left, and now you wilfully desire to be on My left. Hence perhaps they did this through the mother. For the devil betook him to his well-known tool the woman, that as he made prey of Adam by his wife, so he should sever these by their mother. But now that the salvation of all had proceeded from a woman, destruction could no longer enter in among the saints by a woman.

"Or He says, Ye know not what ye ask, seeing we ought not only to consider the glory to which we may attain, but how we may escape the ruin of sin. For so in secular war, he who is ever thinking of the plunder, hardly wins the fight; they should have asked, Give us the aid of Thy grace, that we may overcome all evil.

Raban.: They knew not what they asked, for they were asking of the Lord a seat in glory, which they had not yet merited. The honourable eminence liked them well, but they had first to practise the laborious path thereto; "Can ye drink of the cup that I shall drink of?"

Jerome: By the cup in the divine Scriptures we understand suffering, as in the Psalm, "I will take the cup of salvation;" [Psalms 116:13-15] and straightway He proceeds to shew what is the cup, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Pseudo-Chrys.: The Lord knew that they were able to follow His passion, but He puts the question to them that we may all hear, that no man can reign with Christ, unless he is conformed to Christ in His passion; for that which is precious is only to be purchased at a costly price. The Lord’s passion we may call not only the persecution of the Gentiles, but all the hardships we go through in struggling against our sins.

Chrys.: He says therefore, "Can ye drink it?" as much as to say, You ask me of honours and crowns, but I speak to you of labour and travail, for this is no time for rewards. He draws their attention by the manner of His question, for He says not, Are ye able to shed your blood? but, "Are ye able to drink of the cup?" then He adds, "which I shall drink of?"

Remig.: That by such partaking they may burn with the more zeal towards Him. But they, already sharing the readiness and constancy of martyrdom, promise that they would drink of it; whence it follows, "They say unto him, We are able."

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or, they say this not so much out of reliance on their own fortitude, as out of ignorance; for to the inexperienced the trial of suffering and death appears slight.

Chrys.: Or they offer this in the eagerness of their desire, expecting that for their thus speaking they should have what they desired. But He foretels great blessings for them, to wit, that they should be made worthy of martyrdom. "He saith unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of my cup."

Origen: Christ does not say, Ye are able to drink of My cup, but looking to their future perfection He said, "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup."

Jerome: It is made a question how the sons of Zebedee, James, and John, did drink the cup of martyrdom, seeing Scripture relates that James only was beheaded by Herod, while John ended his life by a peaceful death. [Acts 12:2] But when we read in ecclesiastical history that John himself was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil with intent to martyr him, and that he was banished to the isle of Patmos, we shall see that he lacked not the will for martyrdom, and that John had drunk the cup of confession, the which also the Three Children in the fiery furnace did drink of, albeit the persecutor did not shed their blood.

Hilary: The Lord therefore commends their faith, in that He says that they are able to suffer martyrdom together with Him; but, "To sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but for whom it is prepared of my Father."

Though indeed, as far as we can judge, that honour is so set apart for others, as that the Apostles shall not be strangers to it, who shall sit on the throne of the Twelve Patriarchs to judge Israel; also, as may be collected out of the Gospels themselves, Moses and Elias shall sit with them in the kingdom of heaven, seeing that it was in their company that He appeared on the mount in His apparel of splendour.

Jerome: But to me this seems not so. Rather the names of them that shall sit in the kingdom of heaven are not named, lest that, if some few were named, the rest should think themselves shut out; for the kingdom of heaven is not of him that gives it, but of him that receives it.

Not that there is respect of persons with God, but whosoever shall shew himself such as to be worthy of the kingdom of heaven, shall receive it, for it is prepared not for condition, but for conduct.

Therefore if you shall be found to be such as to be fit for that kingdom of heaven which My Father has made ready for the conquerors, ye shall receive the same. He said not, Ye shall not sit there, that He might not discourage the two brethren; while He said not, Ye shall sit there, that He might not stir the others to envy.

Chrys.: Or otherwise. That seat seems to be unapproachable to all, not only men, but Angels also; for so Paul assigns it peculiarly to the Only-Begotten saying, "To which of the Angels said he at any time, Sit thou on my right hand?" [Hebrews 1:13] The Lord therefore makes answer, not as though in verity there were any that should sit there, but as condescending to the apprehensions of the petitioners. They asked but this one grant, to be before others near Him; but the Lord answers, Ye shall die for My sake, yet is not that sufficient to make you obtain the first rank. For if there shall come another with martyrdom, and having virtue greater than yours, I will not, because I love you, put him out, and give you precedence. But that they should not suppose that he lacked power, He said not absolutely, It is not Mine to give, but, "It is not mine to give to you, but to those for whom it was prepared;" that is, to those who are made illustrious by their deeds.

Remig.: Or otherwise; "It is not mine to give to you," that is, to proud men such as you are, but to the lowly in heart, "for whom it is prepared of my Father."

Aug., de Trin., i, 12: Or otherwise; The Lord makes answer to His disciples in His character of servant; though whatever is prepared by the Father is also prepared by the Son, for He and the Father are one.

Verses 24-28

Ver24. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.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.26. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;27. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: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."

Chrys.: So long as the judgment of Christ upon this request was in suspense, the other disciples were not indignant; but when they heard Him rebuke them, they were sorrowful; whence it is said, "And when the ten heard it, they had indignation against the two brethren."

Jerome: They do not lay it upon the forwardness of the mother who spoke the request, but upon her sons, who, not knowing their measure, burned with so immoderate desires.

Chrys.: For when the Lord rebuked them, then they perceived that this request was from the disciples. For though they were grieved in their hearts when they saw them so especially honoured in the transfiguration, they yet dared not so express themselves, out of respect to their teacher.

Pseudo-Chrys.: But as the two had asked carnally, so now the ten are grieved carnally. For as to seek to be above all is blameworthy, so to have another above us is mortifying to our vanity.

Jerome: But the meek and lowly Master neither charges the two with ambition, nor rebukes the ten for their spleen and jealousy; but, "Jesus called them unto him."

Chrys.: By thus calling them to Him, and speaking to them face to face, he sooths them in their discomposure; for the two had been speaking with the Lord apart by themselves. But not now as before does He it by bringing forward a child, but He proves it to them by reasoning from contraries; "Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them."

Origen: That is, not content merely to rule over their subjects, they are severe and oppressive. But among you who are Mine these things shall not be so; for as all carnal things are done by compulsion, but spiritual things by free-will, so those rulers who are spiritual ought to rest their power in the love of their subjects, not in their fears.

Chrys.: He shews here that it is of the Gentiles to desire preeminence; and by this comparison of the Gentiles He calms their troubled souls.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Indeed, to desire a good work is good, for it is within our will, and ours is the reward; but to desire a primacy of honour is vanity. For when we attain this we are judged of God, because we know not whether in our precedence of honour we deserve the reward of righteousness. For not even an Apostle will have praise with God, because he is an Apostle, but if he has well fulfilled the duties of his Apostleship; nor was an Apostle placed in honour as an Apostle, for any previous merit of his; but was judged meet for that ministry, on account of the disposition of his mind.

For high place courts him who flies from it, and shuns him who courts it. A better life then, and not a more worthy degree, should be our object. The Lord therefore, willing to check the ambition of the two sons of Zebedee, and the indignation of the others, points out this distinction between the chief men of the world, and those of the Church, shewing that the primacy in Christ is neither to be sought by him who has it not, nor envied by him who has it. For men become masters in this world that they may exercise domination over their inferiors, and reduce them to slavery, and rob them, and employ them even to death for their own profit and glory.

But men become governors in the Church, that they may serve those who are under them, and minister to them whatever they have received of Christ, that they may postpone their own convenience, and mind that of others, and not refuse even to die for the sake of those beneath them. To seek therefore a command in the Church is neither righteous, nor profitable. No prudent man will voluntarily subject himself to slavery, nor to stand in such peril wherein he will have to render account for the whole Church; unless it be one perchance who fears not God’s judgment, who abuses His ecclesiastical primacy to a secular end, so that He converts it into a secular primacy.

Jerome: Lastly, He sets before them His own example, that so should they little weigh His words, His deeds might shame them, whence He adds, "As also the Son of Man cometh not to be ministered unto, but to minister."

Origen: For though the Angels and Martha ministered to Him, yet did He not come to be ministered unto, but to minister; [marg. note: Matthew 4:11; John 12:2] yea, His ministry extended so far, that He fulfilled even what follows, "And to give his life a ransom for many," they, that is, who believed on Him; and gave it, i. e. to death.

But since He was alone free among the dead, and mightier than the power of death, He has set free from death all who were willing to follow Him. The heads of the Church ought therefore to imitate Christ in being affable, adapting Himself to women, laying His hands on children, and washing His disciples’ feet, that they also should do the same to their brethren.

But we are such, that we seem to go beyond the pride even of the great ones of this world; as to the command of Christ, either not understanding it, or setting it at nought. Like princes we seek hosts to go before us, we make ourselves awful and difficult of access, especially to the poor, neither approaching them, nor suffering them to approach us.

Chrys.: How much soever you humble yourself, you cannot descend so far as did your Lord.

Verses 29-34

Ver 29. And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. [p. 698]30. 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."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."32. And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, "What will ye that I shall do unto you?"33. They say unto him, "Lord, that our eyes may be opened."34. So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.

Pseudo-Chrys.: As the proof of the husbandman’s industry lies in the abundance of his crop, so the fulness of the Church is the evidence of an industrious teacher; so it is here said, "And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him." No one was deterred by the toilsomeness of the journey, for spiritual love feels no fatigue; no one was kept away by the thought of sufferings, for they were going into possession of the kingdom of heaven.

For he who has in very deed tasted the reality of heavenly good, has nothing to attach him to earth. In good season these blind men come before Christ, that having their eyes opened, they may go up with Him to Jerusalem as witnesses to His power. They heard the sound of the passers by, but saw not their persons, and having nothing free about them but their voice, because they could not follow Him with their feet, they pursued Him with their voice; "When they heard that Jesus passed by, they cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David."

Aug., de Cons. Ev., ii, 65: Mark relates this miracle, but speaks of only one blind man. This difficulty is thus explained; of the two blind linen whom Matthew has introduced, one was well known in that city, as appears by Mark’s mentioning both his name, and that of his father. Bartimaeus [p. 699] the son of Timaeus was well known as having sunk from great affluence, and now sitting not only blind, but a beggar. For this reason then it is that Mark chose to mention him alone, because the restoration of his sight procured fame to the miracle, in proportion to the notoriety of the fact of his blindness. Though what Luke relates was done after the same manner, yet his account [marg. note: Luke 18:35] is to be taken of another though similar miracle. That which he gives was done as they drew near to Jericho; this in the other two as they came out of Jericho.

"And the multitude rebuked them that they should hold their peace."

Pseudo-Chrys.: For they saw how mean their clothes, and considered not how pure their consciences. See the foolish wisdom of men! They think great men are hurt when they receive the homage of the poor. What poor man dare salute a rich man in public?

Hilary: Or, They bid them hold their peace, not from reverence for Christ, but because they were grieved to hear from the blind what they denied, namely, that the Lord was the Son of David.

Origen: Or; Those that believed rebuked them that they should not dishonour Him by styling Him merely Son of David, but should rather say, Son of God, have mercy on us.

Pseudo-Chrys.: They were rather encouraged than repelled by this rebuke. For so faith is quickened by being prohibited; and hence is secure in dangers, and in security is endangered; whence it follows, But they cried out the more, saying, "Have mercy upon us, Son of David." They cried out at the first because they were blind, now they rather cried out because they were forbidden to come to the Light.

Chrys., Hom., lxvi: Christ suffered them to be forbidden, that their desire might be the more evidenced. Hence learn that though we be repulsed, yet if we come to God with earnestness, of ourselves, we shall obtain that we ask.

It follows, "And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I should do unto you?"

Jerome: Jesus stood still, because they being blind could not see their way. About Jericho were many pits, crags, and abrupt precipices; therefore the Lord stands still, that they might come to Him.

Origen: Or; Jesus does not pass on, but stands still, that by His standing His goodness may not pass by, but as from an abiding fount mercy may flow forth upon them.

Jerome: He commands that they be called to Him that the multitude may not withhold them; and He asks them what they would, that by their answer, their necessity may be made apparent, and His power be shewn in their healing.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Or; He asks them on account of their faith, that whereas they who were blind confess Christ to be the Son of God, those who had their sight might be put to shame for their esteeming Him only man. They had indeed called Christ, "Lord," and they had spoken true; but by calling Him the "Son of David," they obliterated this their good confession.

For indeed by a misuse of words men are called Lords, but none is truly Lord, but God only. When therefore they say, "O Lord, thou Son of David," they thus misapply the term to Christ, as esteeming Him man; had they only called Him Lord, they would have confessed His Godhead. When then He asks them, "What would ye?" they no longer style Him Son of David, but only Lord; "They say unto Him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened." For the Son of David cannot open the eyes of the blind, but the Son of God can. So long then as they cried, "O Lord, thou Son of David," their cure was delayed; as soon as they said, "Lord," only, healing was shed upon them; for it follows, "And Jesus had compassion upon them, and touched their eyes, and straightway they saw." He touched them carnally as man, He healed them as God.

Jerome: The Creator bestows what nature had not given; or at least mercy accords what weakness had withheld.

Chrys.: But as before this bounty they had been persevering, so after the receiving it they were not ungrateful.

Pseudo-Chrys.: On being healed they rendered a high service to Christ; for it follows, "And they followed him." For this the Lord requires of thee, according to the Prophet, that "thou be careful to walk with the Lord thy God." [Micah 6:8]

Jerome: They then who had sat shut up in Jericho, and knew only to cry with their voice, afterwards follow Jesus, not so much with their feet as in their virtues.

Raban.: But Jericho, which is interpreted ’the moon,’ denotes the infirmity of our changefulness.

Origen: Figuratively, Jericho is taken to be the world, into which Christ came down. They who are in Jericho, know not how to escape from the wisdom of the world, unless they see not Jesus only coming out of Jericho, but also His disciples. This when they saw, great multitudes followed Him, despising the world and all worldly things, that under His guidance they may go up to the heavenly Jerusalem.

The two blind men we may call Judah and Israel, who before the coming of Christ were blind, not seeing the true word which was in the Law and the Prophets, yet sitting by the wayside of the Law and the Prophets, and understanding Him only as after the flesh, they cried to Him who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.

Jerome: By the two blind men are generally understood the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Aug., Quaest. Ev., i, 28: Otherwise; The two blind men sitting by the wayside, denote certain of both nations already by faith coming in to that temporal dispensation, according to which Christ is the way, and seeking to be enlightened, that is, to know something concerning the eternity of the Word. This they desired to obtain from the Lord as He passed by, for the merit of that faith by which He is believed to be the Son of God, to have been born man, and to have suffered for us; for in this dispensation, Jesus, as it were, passes by, for all action is of this world.

Also it behoved that they should cry out so loud as to overpower the din of the multitude that withstood them; that is, so to fortify their minds by perseverance and prayer, and mortifying continually the usage of fleshly lusts, (which as a crowd ever beset one that is endeavouring to come to the sight of eternal truth,) and by the straitest painfulness to get the better of the multitude of carnal men who hinder spiritual aspirations.

Aug., Serm., 88, 13: For bad or lukewarm Christians are an hindrance to good Christians, who seek to perform the commandments of God. Notwithstanding these cry and faint not; for every Christian at his first setting about to live well and to despise the world, has to endure at the first the censures of cold Christians; but if he persevere, they will soon comply, who but now withstood him.

Aug., Quaest. Ev., ii, 28: Jesus therefore, the same who said, "To him that knocketh it shall be opened," hearing them, stands still, touches them, and gives them light. Faith in His temporal incarnation prepares us for the understanding of things eternal. By the passing by of Jesus they are admonished that they should be enlightened, and when He stands still they are enlightened; for things temporal pass by, but things eternal stand still.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Some interpret that the two blind men are the Gentiles; one sprung from Cham, the other from Japhet; they sat by the wayside, that is, they walked hard by the truth, but they could not find it out; or they were placed in reason, not having yet received knowledge of the Word.

Raban.: But recognizing the rumour of Christ, they desired to be made partakers of Him. Many spake against them; first the Jews, as we read in the Acts; then the Gentiles harassed them by persecution; but yet they might not deprive those who were preordained to life of salvation.

Pseudo-Chrys.: Accordingly Jesus touched the eyes of the Gentile mind, giving them the grace of the Holy Spirit, and when enlightened they followed Him with good works.

Origen: We also now sitting by the wayside of the Scriptures, and understanding wherein we are blind, if we ask with desire, He will touch the eyes of our souls, and the gloom of ignorance shall depart from our minds, that in the light of knowledge we may follow Him, who gave us power to see to no other end than that we should follow Him.

Bibliographical Information
Aquinas, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Golden Chain Commentary on the Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gcc/matthew-20.html.
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