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Laborers for a Vineyard
The parable that the Lord pronounces here is in line with Peter’s demand for the reward for following Him. This is already apparent from the word “for” with which the parable begins. This is also shown by a comparison between the last verse of the previous chapter and Matthew 20:16 of this chapter. In His answer to Peter, the Lord pointed out that many of the first will be the last, and the last the first (Matthew 19:30). He will explain this in this parable of the kingdom of heaven, which He then concludes in Matthew 20:16 as follows: “So”, that is: in this way, “the last shall be first, and the first last.
In this parable, the Lord establishes the principle of the grace and sovereignty of God towards those whom He calls. He also makes it clear that what He gives to those He sends into His vineyard depends on His grace and calling. The important point in this parable is the trust in the grace of the Lord of the vineyard and that that grace is the starting point for the treatment of those who go into the vineyard.
It is a parable of the kingdom of heaven. This means that in the parable it is made clear how things operate in the kingdom of heaven. It is not a parable that shows how sinners are converted. This parable is about those who have a relationship with the Lord Jesus and are called to service by Him. In this, He acts sovereignly, as well as in rewarding the workers. He will acknowledge every service that is done and every sacrifice that is made for His cause without exception. At the same time, He will also maintain His own right to express that recognition as He wills. He has the right to give to those who may have done nothing according to us.
The lord here is a lord of the house [landowner is also translated as householder (Darby Translation)], which also connects the idea of a house to the kingdom. This lord got up early and goes looking for workers for his vineyard. With the first batch of workers he negotiates. These workers enter the vineyard after an agreement has been made with them. The workers go to work in the vineyard for the agreed wage.
The lord of the house can use even more workers. He sees people who have nothing to do. He goes to them to say that they too should go into the vineyard, with the promise that he will give them “whatever is right”. This group of workers goes into the vineyard without agreement, but in trust on the pledge of the lord. Then, for a third and fourth round, the lord goes outside again and acts in the same way. He is constantly calling people to work in his vineyard. Each time he goes outside.
Even at eleven o’clock, when the day is almost over, the lord goes outside. Again he finds people who are doing nothing. Before he sends them into his vineyard, he asks why they have been unemployed all day long. His question shows that he knows their past. Their answer demonstrates passivity. They are not like Ruth who herself looks for work wherever she can find it and counts on the favor of the land owner (Ruth 2:2). Yet the Lord sends them into His vineyard. This last batch of workers enters the vineyard without any commitment.
The time for payment of the wage comes. With wisdom, the lord of the vineyard decides how the payment should be made. He tells his foreman that he must start paying out with the last. They get paid first. Then the others see it, especially those who first went into the vineyard. The actions of the lord will make public what is in their hearts. When the group of workers who last went into his vineyard is paid out, to their amazement each one of them receives a denarius. In his grace, the lord gives to those who have only worked one hour, the pay for a whole day’s work.
Finally, the first come. They have seen how those who have only worked one hour have been given a denarius. It seems only logical to them that they should then have twelve denarii. In the end, they worked a whole day of twelve hours, around the clock. They can count well. Let it be a bit less, but at least they count on more than one denarius. However, they get justly the agreed wage of a denarius.
When they see this, they express their displeasure. They feel they are being treated unfairly and complain to the lord of the house. They feel wronged. There they are put on an equal footing with those who have only worked for an hour, while they have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day. Their complaint relates to the conduct of the lord of the house. They find it unjust that the last are equated with them, while they have had to make much more effort.
Comments only come from the group that was paid out last and started first. None of the other groups, one of which also has endured the heat of the day, says anything about the pay-out to the first group that last started. They realize the grace in the pay-out. The comment comes – and that is the lesson – from people of the law that make God a debtor of man.
The lord replied to one of them. That might well be the very first man to enter the vineyard. He calls him “friend” and reminds him that he is not wronging him. He reminds this ‘friend’ of the agreement. If he pays him for what he himself has signed up for, what is wrong in his conduct? The worker may take his money and go. It has become his money, the lord calls it “yours”. He has really earned it and he can spend it the way he wants.
In his grace, the lord of the vineyard gave to the latter as much as to the former. The lord speaks of “this last man”, that is to say one person with whom he will mean the one who really entered the vineyard as the very last. What the lord has given to the last one is not the matter of the worker of the first hour, but the matter of the lord. Who is the worker telling the lord what to do with his money? Is the lord not free? Or is it rather so that the generousness shown to others reveals the enviousness of the heart of those who believe they have more rights?
The Lord Jesus teaches His disciples, for to them He spoke this parable from the previous section. There is the order: the first will be the last and the last will be the first (Matthew 19:30) because it is about the failure of man. Here the order is the other way around: the last are the first and the first are the last, because this is about the sovereignty of God.
The lesson to be learned – and difficult to learn – is that the Lord does not leave any work unremunerated, but that He values simple faith in Him higher than the greatest effort made for Him. This is the faith that goes out for Him, even though the day has already passed, without thinking of wages, but because He sends out. The faith and love for Him as a motive for His service are more important to Him than the actual work that can be done.
True servants of Christ have drunk of His grace and are guided by the desire that He be glorified and their fellow men served. They are filled with what has been bestowed upon them by grace to serve such a Master, their Savior. This unprecedented privilege of serving Him would be completely lost if we were to negotiate it with Him.
That this happens in this parable of the kingdom of heaven means that we see the kingdom here in its widest sphere which also includes those who confess only in name to belong to the Lord, the nominal Christians. Working for the Lord from the motive to be rewarded in the future is misleading. But working for Him in the power of inner devotion for Who He is, puts the stamp of heaven on the service. The latter makes us conform to Him Whom we serve. Certainly the Lord promises a reward, but that is not the motive to serve. As we look at the Lord Jesus in His service, we learn how to serve.
Third Announcement of Suffering
After the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the work He Himself must do comes to His attention. To do this He must go up to Jerusalem. When He directs Himself toward this, He wants to share the thoughts of His heart with His twelve disciples, and with them alone. He wants to involve them in what concerns Him.
While they are on the road, He speaks to them while walking. He tells them where they are going and what the religious leaders will do with Him, the Son of Man, in Jerusalem. He will be handed over – by Judas, but the Lord does not mention his name – to the false leaders, and they will condemn Him to death. After being handed over by Judas to the false leaders, they will hand Him over to the nations in the person of Pilate and his soldiers. He will be mocked, scourged and crucified. But that is not the end. He will be raised on the third day. He is the Conqueror of Death.
A Place in the Kingdom
After His impressive words about His suffering, death and resurrection, the mother of John and James comes to Him. She honors Him first. She is aware of His majesty. Then she asks something of Him. She has not asked the question yet, but asked if she can ask something. Although the Lord knows what concerns her, He invites her to ask what she wants. Her request is whether her sons may have a prominent place in His kingdom. Her question shows her faith in Christ as King.
He answers to her that she doesn’t know what she is asking. This is a reprimand. She should not have asked such a question. The Lord reveals the motive of the question by then asking the sons a question. They will have asked their mother to ask Him about the coveted position in the kingdom.
Peter has just asked what their portion would be (Matthew 19:27); the brothers John and James go a step further and determine their portion themselves by asking for an important place in the kingdom. Although they are being reprimanded for their question by the Lord, we must not forget that it was their desire to be close to their Master and Lord. No doubt they will be close to Him on the day they will sit with their fellow disciples on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28).
The Lord responds with a question about drinking a cup. Drinking a cup is a form of suffering. The sons of Zebedee answered that they are able to drink the cup. Is that overconfidence? The Lord does not answer that they are able to drink the cup, but says that they will certainly drink it. He does not say anything about their position in the kingdom. This matter is in the hand of His Father, Who has prepared a place for each one.
What the mother asks the Lord for her sons, she does not receive. It is exceptional that we read that a mother asks the Lord something for her children that is not heard by Him. That is because of what is being asked. An emergency question is always answered. This is a request for a reward for her sons, a tribute to them, and He cannot grant it.
When the other ten disciples hear this, they become indignant with the two brothers very much. But why do they become indignant with John and James? Have they maybe been troubled by competitive feelings?
Not Ruling, but Serving
The Lord calls His disciples to Himself. He wants to teach them something about the things that concern them all with regard to their place in the kingdom. To teach them the lesson of serving, He points to what is customary in the world. They know how things are going there. They know the world. In the world, people strive for authority. The rulers and great men are in charge and the others have nothing to say.
Among the believers it should be different. The spirit of Christ is a spirit of service that leads to the choice of the humblest place and total devotion to others. It means renouncing everything to depend with confidence on the grace of Him we serve. It is a question of consistent readiness to take the humblest place in order to be the servant of all. That should be the mind of those who have part in the kingdom as it is now established by the rejected Lord.
In the kingdom of God there are rules that are opposed to the rules that apply in the kingdoms of the world. In the kingdom of God, true service leads to true greatness. Greatness in the world is expressed in lordship and authority over others. Greatness among the saints is expressed in serving and care.
“To become great” has to do with how someone makes themselves known. A person who wants to be great in the kingdom will be great if he wants to serve others as a servant. “To be first” has to do with ranking. Whoever wants to be that must be a slave, that is to say someone who is the full property of a master and has no right to his own existence. His existence is determined by his master. “Servant” is more about what he does, his willingness to serve. “Slave” is more about what the master wants. He who is served determines his life.
The Lord Jesus Himself is the great Example of Someone Who lives according to the rules of the kingdom of heaven. Therefore He is the Greatest and the First. He has also accomplished a work in which we cannot follow Him. That is the work of salvation. His service went so far that He gave His life. Only His perfect life and its surrender to death can be a ransom for “many”, that is all who believe in Him. The word “for” here means ‘in place of’.
In the lesson that the Lord gives His disciples and us, we see one of the moments in the history of our Lord in which He combines majesty with submission and authority with obedience. These combinations are seen in His life in a way that brings the disciples and also us to worship at His feet.
Healing of Two Blind Men
The Lord has spoken of His life as a ransom. With this in mind, He begins His last journey to Jerusalem. Jericho is the city of the curse. He has been there and has brought blessings. Now He is on His way, with His disciples, to Jerusalem to lay the foundation for all the blessings He has spread and will bring. Attracted by this blessing a large crowd follows Him and leaves Jericho with Him. They do not realize where His way leads.
While he is on the road, two blind people call upon his mercy (cf. Matthew 9:27). They sit by the road. When they hear that “Jesus” is passing by, they cry out to Him. They must have heard of Him before. Their eyes are blind, but they have enlightened eyes of the heart. This is their chance and they seize it. The crowd wants to silence them. When the Lord is called upon, there are always those who want to prevent it. But the blind possess the power of faith, and are of those violent men who take the kingdom by force (Matthew 11:12). Instead of remaining silent, they call all the more for the mercy of the Lord.
“And Jesus stopped.” What a wonderful Lord! While He is on His way to Jerusalem and the thought of what will happen to Him there occupies Him, He lets Himself be held up by a call for mercy. Then He calls them. He takes the time for them. Here too comes His question as to what they want Him to do (cf. Matthew 20:20-Ecclesiastes :). He knows it, but He wants to hear it from them. He wants to hear from our mouth what we want from Him. Without many words they express to the Lord what their longing is: that their eyes be opened.
The Lord heals them. He does not do this as a benefactor, but as One Who shares in their need. He is moved with compassion. From an inner involvement with their misery He touches the place where it all revolves around. The result is immediately visible. These two follow Him from now on His way to Jerusalem.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany