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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 20

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-34

Matthew 20:1 . A householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers for the work of his vineyard, the time, the most important time of the vintage being understood. It was the custom among the jews to begin their labour with the rising sun, which at the time of the vintage in their climate would not be earlier than six in the morning. But the master must have been active by the break of day.

Matthew 20:2 . He agreed with the labourers for a penny a day. The denarius was a silver drachm, value about sevenpense, a very ample remuneration of labour in that age. The gold drachm was twenty four times the value of the silver one, bullion gold being then much dearer than in the present day.

Matthew 20:4 . Whatsoever is right, according to custom, I will give you. They trusted the word of the householder, teaching us to trust the promises of God.

Matthew 20:7 . They say because no man hath hired us. This was a retort on the good householder for his rebuke, for wicked men are full of excuses and apologies for sin. They were not aware, being idle and absent, that he had that day been four times in the places of rendezvous, seeking for workmen.

Matthew 20:8 . Call the labourers beginning to pay those first who had entered the vineyard last, and had laboured only one hour. This is the touchstone of scripture parable, to develope the goodness of God, and the baseness of man.

Matthew 20:16 . So the last shall be first, and the first last. This is a luminous prophecy, that the gentiles should now become the first in the church of God, a privilege which had so long been the peculiar boast of the jews.

Many are called, but few chosen. The literal sense, in regard of the labourers, is, that many are called to work and labour in the vintage, among whom but few good and contented servants are found. And in regard to the spiritual calling of men, the gospel heralds cry, Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. Come to me, says the Saviour, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. The Spirit and the bride say come, and whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely. The gates of Zion are open by day, and there is no night there. If we examine the two Greek words, κλητοι and εκλεκτοι , the called and the elect, we shall find that they constantly designate men called to a feast, whether earthly or celestial. They nowhere exclude any man from salvation, by any decrees in God’s counsel of preterition. All such ideas are stumbling blocks in the way of men’s conversion. See Matthew 22:14.

Matthew 20:21 . Grant that these my two sons may sit on thy right and left hand. The rabbinical dream of a temporal kingdom filled the mind of this ambitious mother. Christ, by drinking of his cup, delicately hinted at higher promotion, namely, that of the cross. So worldly courtiers besiege the throne for promotions, and noble rank, when they have done nothing to merit distinction. What are such honours and rank, but elevations of contempt!

Matthew 20:22 . Are ye able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? Baptism here is figuratively understood for being plunged into sorrows and afflictions. The cup likewise implies persecution and death, though it sometimes signifies also religious joy. I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. Psalms 94:0. It signifies affluence and wealth; hence Babylon is called a golden cup. Jeremiah 51:7. It signifies in short the dregs of vengeance which God forces the wicked to drink. Psalms 75:8. This mother was therefore premature in seeking honour for her sons. No man is crowned till he has first fought and conquered. Hence Jesus supplied her defect by referring to persecution and martyrdom; for the thrones in heaven are prepared for those only who conquer in the fight.

Matthew 20:23 . To sit on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give. The Vulgate reads, dare vobis, to give to you; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father: ουκ εστιν εμον δουναι , αλλ ’ οις ητοιμασται υπο του πατρος μου . As our Saviour says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit down with me on my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father on his throne.” Revelation 3:20. Perhaps it has been overlooked, that αλλα is equivalent here to ει μη , save or except. Then the sense will be, that those thrones were not his to give, except to those for whom they were prepared. A just reproof to the two disciples for asking favours, as elsewhere by their mother, for which, as yet, they were by no means prepared.

Matthew 20:25-28 . Ye know that the princes of the gentiles exercise dominion, monarchical sovereignty, over their subjects. Their governments were mostly of a martial character, and no man durst disobey: obedience was chiefly prompted by fear. But the church is a voluntary association of persons, intending to help one another in piety and usefulness. The whole of their religious obligation is a reasonable service. The church is a family, and the pastor must be paternal, guiding the affairs of a great house. He must love the souls committed to his care, and always seek their good. That man is to be venerated, who can keep his flock in peace for forty years.

Matthew 20:30 . Two blind men sitting by the way side. Two other evangelists mention only one blind man. Mark 10:46. Beggars seldom agree to sit together; and therefore the two evangelists mention only Bartimeus, whose case was the most notable. See Luke 18:35, where the case of this beggar is illustrated. There is a similar variation concerning the two demoniacs and the two thieves. Compare Matthew 8:28, Mark 5:2, and Luke 8:27.


The objects of this beautiful parable are to reprove the jews, and to magnify the riches of grace towards the gentiles. Notwithstanding, the fathers generally concur in expounding the several periods of the day in which the owner of the vineyard went out to hire labourers, of the dispensations of God to man. The morning they make to be from Adam to Noah. The third to the sixth hour, they say, is from Noah to Moses. The space between the sixth and ninth hour refers to the law from Moses to Christ; and the eleventh hour to the end of the world, in which period the gentiles, though called late, are made equal to the jews. Nor is it improbable but a man converted at a late period of life may be more approved of God than an old and a less sanctified professor. The parable excludes all self-righteousness, all boasting, and all murmuring at the riches of mercy exercised towards the chief of sinners. But personal and evangelical improvements ought not to be omitted here.

(1) The whole period of human life may be said to be this day. Both men and nations are said to have their day. Jeremiah 23:6. Luke 19:41.

(2) In this short day man has a great work to do for God, and God has a great work to do in man. It is as the days of the vintage, and of the harvest, when idleness is an inexcusable crime. (3) God draws and engages children to the work of salvation in their early years. Most good men can recollect the early drawing and calls of grace, though at the time, like young Samuel, they knew not the voice of God.

(4) Others are called at the third hour; say, from sixteen to twenty years of age. This is an eventful period to youth; and they who have lost the morning should not lose the day.

(5) Others are called at noon; say, when they are married, or enter on the affairs of life; and being heads of houses they have doubly need to serve the Lord.

(6) Others are called at the ninth hour; say, when their best days are past, when infirmities begin to appear. And if a man have lost his day, it is a double shame to lose his evening too.

(7) But the eleventh hour is the most serious crisis. Those in the afternoon were hired without a fixed stipend; but these are only permitted with rebuke. Why stand ye here all the day idle? What a cutting question to the greyheaded sinner. Let us turn it several ways.

Why stand ye idle, when ye have so much to do? Why stand ye idle, when many of your neighbours have been so long employed for God. Why stand ye idle, when God is most urgently seeking labourers. He was seeking them from the earliest dawn of day: but you, pursuing your pleasures and your sins, did not present yourselves. Why stand ye idle, when on this day so much depends, for it is your only day?

The ingenious Thomas Boston has a sermon on these words which he divides into six heads, by laying the emphasis on each word. Why are ye idle? Why are ye idle? Why stand ye idle? As much as to say, have ye lost all shame to stand idle before God and men? Why stand ye here idle? Why idle in the day? Why idle all the day?

There is yet a danger against which the sinner should be cautioned; that is, mistaking the eleventh for the twelfth hour. The foolish virgins awoke at the twelfth hour, but the door was shut. Now, suppose a man shall live sixty years, the age of fifty five is then the eleventh hour to him: and suppose a man shall die at twenty four, then the age of twenty two is to him the eleventh hour. And as no man can assure himself of living a twelfth part of life longer than he has lived, I warn the reader to run to the arms of God, and to the vineyard of his church. There only the long negligent soul shall find the reward of grace.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/matthew-20.html. 1835.
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