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Christ, by the similitude of the labourers in the vineyard, sheweth that God is debtor unto no man; foretelleth his passion; by answering the mother of Zebedee's children, teacheth his disciples to be lowly: and giveth two blind men their sight.
Anno Domini 33.
Matthew 20:1. For the kingdom of heaven, &c.— The true scope of this parable is, to shew that the Jewish nation, who of all people were first in external privileges, and particularlyin respect of the offer of the Gospel, wouldbe last in accepting it; and that when they did receive it, they should enjoy no higher privileges under that dispensation, than the Gentiles, who were called atthe eleventh hour. The application of the parable suggests this interpretation, Matthew 20:16. So the last shall be first, &c. The vineyard signifies the dispensations of religion in general, which God gave to mankind in the different parts of the world. The hiring of labourers early in the morning represents that interposition of Providence by which the Jews were born members of God's visible church, and laid under obligations to obey the law of Moses; "for the kingdom of heaven (the Master of the kingdom of heaven) is like unto a man, or may be fitly represented by the similitude of a man, who is an house holder, οικοδεσποτης, the master of a family." God's bestowing the Gospel dispensation upon mankind, and the preparations previous thereto, may be illustrated by a master of a family's sending labourers at different hours of the day to work in his vineyard. See Macknight, and Petavius, Dogmat. Theolog. vol. 1: p. 305.
Matthew 20:2. For a penny a-day— A denarius, or Roman penny, in value about seven-pence halfpenny of our money,—which hence it seems was the usual price of a day's service among the Jews, as Tacitus tells us it was among the Romans, Annal. Matthew 1:17. It is therefore justly mentioned, Rev 6:6 as a proof of the great scarcity of provisions, when a measure, or choenix of wheat, which was the usual allowance to one man for a day, and was about an English quart, was sold at that price. See Doddridge.
Matthew 20:3-7. He went out about the third hour, &c.— The hiring of labourers at the subsequent third, sixth, and ninth hours, signifies the various interpositions of Providence, by which many of the Gentiles in the different ages of the world were converted, either in whole or in part, to the knowledge of the true God; becoming some proselytes of righteousness, others proselytes of the gate. The invitation given at the eleventh hour signifies God's calling the Gentiles to the Gospel dispensation, when the Gospel was preached in every civilized nation of the world.—The Jews were ready to look upon themselves with complacency, as a people who had for manyages adhered to the worship of the true God, and in some periods had endured great extremities out of a regard to it: and it seems natural to interpret what is said, Mat 20:12 of bearing the burden and heat of the day, with a reference to this, rather than to any peculiar hardship which the earlier converts among the Jews might have endured, more than the believing Gentiles, many of whom met with much the same treatment on their embracing Christianity. See 1 Thessalonians 2:14. The hours are mentioned according to the ordinary division of the day among the Jews, the third hour being nine in the morning, and so on. The word δικαιον, Mat 20:4 rendered right, signifies not only what a person may legally claim, but what he might equitably expect from a person of honour and humanity; whatsoever is reasonable. See Macknight, and Doddridge. The word αργους, rendered idle, Mat 20:6 should rather be rendered unemployed; for they were willing to work.
Matthew 20:8-9. Call the labourers, &c.— The equal reward bestowed on all,—the penny given to each labourer as his wages, signifies the Gospel, with its privileges and advantages, which they all enjoyed on an equal footing. The steward who called the labourers to receive this reward, represents the Apostles and first preachers, by whom the Gospel was offered both to Jews and Gentiles; and the rewards being first bestowed on the labourers who came at the eleventh hour, signifies, that the idolatrous Gentiles and proselytes would enjoy the Gospel with its privileges, before the Jewish nation would accept of it, the condition not of a few individuals, but of great bodies of men being represented in the parable.
Matthew 20:11. They murmured against the good man, &c.— The οικοδεσποτης, or master of the family. That this was the case with the Jews, upon a general notion of the Gentiles being, according to the Christian scheme, intended to be partakers with them in the same church privileges, is plain from a variety of Scriptures; particularly Acts 11:2-3; Acts 13:45-50; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:6; Acts 18:13; Acts 22:21-22; Act 28:29. 1 Thessalonians 2:16. Since no murmurings can happen among the blessed, this must refer to the unbelieving Jews; but as it is certain they will have no place in the kingdom of heaven, we plainly see that it would be very absurd to pretend to draw doctrinal consequences from every incidental circumstance of the parable.
Matthew 20:13-15. Friend, I do thee no wrong— "Seeing I have given thee the hire which I promised thee, thou hast no reason of complaint; and if I choose to give unto those who came last into the vineyard as much hire as I have given to thee, who can find fault with it? I own it is an act of generosity; but am I not free to bestow what is mine own as I see proper? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? Because I am liberal and bountiful, art thou envious and covetous?" A malignant aspect is generally the attendant of a selfish envious temper, which was very characteristic of the Jews; this part of the parable, therefore, is a striking representation of God's goodness in bestowing upon the Gentiles the Gospel dispensation, without subjecting them to the grievous burden of the Mosaic yoke. In Matthew 20:14. The original words Αρον το σον, might be rendered, take up that is thine; and implies that they not only murmured, but in their passion threw down upon the ground the money which they had received.
Matthew 20:16. For many are called, &c.— A proverbial expression, which, as it is here stated, imports that the Jews should all be called by the Apostles and first preachers to receive the Gospel;—"They shall have the Gospel preached to them;" but that few of them, in comparison, would obey the call or become chosen servants, the generalityof the nation wilfully remaining in infidelity and wickedness: wherefore, this branch of the parable very fitly represents the pride of the Jews in rejecting the Gospel, when they found the Gentiles admitted to its privileges without becoming subject to the institutions of Moses. In the mean time, we must not urge the circumstance of the reward so, as to fancy that either Jew or Gentile merited of the blessings of Gospel by their having laboured faithfully in the vineyard, or having behaved well under their several dispensations. The Gospel, with its blessings, was bestowed of God's free grace, and without any thing in man meriting it: besides, it was offered promiscuously to all, whether good or bad, and was embraced by persons of all characters. See Macknight, Wetstein, and the Inferences.
Matthew 20:17. And Jesus going up to Jerusalem— See Mark 10:32.
Matthew 20:18. Shall be betrayed unto the chief priests— The original word παραδοθησεται, is the same both here and in St. Mar 10:33 and plainly includes both our Saviour's being treacherously discovered by Judas, and given up into the hands of his enemies. He foretels that they should mock him, as if he was a fool, scourge him, as if he was a knave; spit on him, (Mark 10:34.) to express their abhorrence of him, as a blasphemer; and crucify him, as a criminal slave. This prediction, being built upon the ancient prophesies concerning the Messiah, certainly contained matter of great encouragement to the disciples, had they understood and applied it in a proper manner; and it is a remarkable proof of the prophetic spirit which dwelt in Christ; for, humanly speaking, it was much more probable that he would have been privately assassinated, or stoned, as was once attempted, by some zealous transport of popular fury, than that he should have been thus solemnly condemned, and delivered up to crucifixion: a Roman punishment, with which we do not that find he had ever been threatened. Indeed, when the Jews condemned him for blasphemy, for which the punishment appointed in the law was stoning, and Pilate at last gave them a general permission to take him, and judge him according to their own law, (Matthew 26:65-66. John 18:31; John 19:7.) it is wonderful that they did not choose to stone him. But all this was done, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. Compare Mat 26:56 and John 19:36.
Matthew 20:20-21. Then came to him, &c.— Our Saviour's predictions respecting his sufferings were either not understood by his disciples, or at least they apprehended that, whatever difficulties lay in the way, those sufferings certainly would end in his temporaltriumphandglory.Uponthispresumption,themotherofZebedee'schildren, with her sons James and John, and at their instigation, came to Jesus with a peculiar request, which discovered in the clearest manner the temper of mindthey were in: see Mark 10:35. It seems Salome, for that was her name, (compare ch. Mat 27:56 with Mark 15:40.) was now in our Lord's train, having followed him from Galilee with other pious women, who attended him in his journey, and ministered unto him; that is, supplied him with money, and took care to have him accommodated with lodging and other necessaries. Salome could the more easily give this attendance, as her husband seems now to have been dead, and to have left her in good circumstances, according to his station; for we learn from the Gospels that he had a vessel of his own, and hired servants. Salome, therefore being particularlyacquainted with our Lord, and having always shewn him great respect, thought herself entitled to distinguished favour, and on that account readily undertook, at the desire of her sons, to intercede with him in their behalf. Ever since Christ's transfiguration the two brothers had conceived very high notions of the glory of his kingdom, and, it may be, of their own merit also, because they had been admitted to behold that miracle. They formed the project, therefore, of securing to themselves the chief places by his particular promise, and embraced this as a fit opportunityof accomplishing their purpose. There is probably an allusion in the words of their request to a circumstance which the Talmudical writers relate concerning the Sanhedrim,—that there were two officers of distinction, who sat on each side of the Nasi, or president of the court;—the one called Ab-bethdin, or, "the father of the justiciary," who sat on the right hand of the president; the other Chacham, or the sage, who sat on the left. See Witsius. Miscel. Sacra, vol. 1: lib. 2: diss. 3 and Bishop Bull's works, vol. 1: p. 286.
Matthew 20:22. Ye know not what ye ask— "You are ignorant of the nature of the honour that you are asking: however, since you desire to partake with me in my glory, I would know if you be willing to share with me in my sufferings, for the sake of the Gospel;" insinuating that the road to greatness in his kingdom lay through the depth of affliction and persecution on account of truth. It was customary among the ancients to assign to each guest at a feast a particular cup, as well as dish, and by the kind and quantity of the liquor contained in it, the respect of the entertainer was expressed. Hence cup came in general to signify a portion assigned, whether of pleasure or sorrow; and many instances occur in which it refers to the latter. See ch. Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42.
Matthew 20:23. And be baptized with the baptism— That is, "shall partake of my afflictions." This metaphorical sense of the word baptism, is derived from the figurativeexpressionsoftheOldTestament,inwhichafflictionsarerepresentedunder the notion of great waters passing over, and being ready to overwhelm a person. In this view of the matter James and John were baptised with Christ's baptism; for James was put to death by Herod, Act 12:2 being the first of all the Apostles who suffered martyrdom for Christ; and though the account which some gave of John's being cast into a cauldron of boiling oil at Rome has been called in question by many, it is not to be doubted that he had his share in the persecutions, from which none of Christ's Apostles were exempted. He was imprisoned and scourged by order of the council at Jerusalem, Acts 5:18; Act 5:40 and banished to the isle of Patmos for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ, Revelation 1:9. The last clause of this verse, is not mine to give, &c. should be translated, is not mine to give, unless to them for whom it is prepared, &c; 'Αλλα being put here for ει μη, as it is Mar 9:8 see also Matthew 17:8. Our Saviour meant that it was not in his power, consistently with his perfections, to give the chief places to any, but to those who were most eminent in their graces, particularly for their faith and fortitude; such only having a right to the chief places in the kingdom of heaven, according to the unalterable laws of the divine administration. "I can give the chief places of my kingdom to none, but to those, who, according to the immutable laws of my Father, are capable of enjoying them:" And in this view of the text, how poor a support does it afford to the Arian or Socinian cause!
Matthew 20:25. The princes of the Gentiles— Of the nations around. For God had prescribed to the children of Israel a just and equitable form of government. See Deuteronomy 17:14., to the end. The word rendered, have dominion over them, Κατακυριευουσιν, signifies sometimes to use an immoderate and arbitrary power. See Mark 10:42. It imports the abuse of royal authority (see 1 Samuel 8:11., &c.) which God sometimes is pleased to permit for the punishment of men's iniquities. Jesus, solicitous to cure that pride, which made some of his disciples ambitious, and others jealous, called them unto him, and told them that his kingdom was not, as they imagined, of the same nature with the kingdoms of the world; and that the greatness of his disciples was not the greatness of secular princes, which consists in reigning over others with absolute and despotic sway. See Grotius, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 20:27. Let him be your servant— There is a gradation here not commonly observed: the original word διακονος in the former verse, which, for want of a better word, we rendered minister, is a name which might be given to any who occasionally attended others,or were statedly employed to render them any particular kind of service; but δουλος, servant, signifies one, whose whole business it is to serve, and who is indeed the property of another. Our Lord appears to mean, that he who presides over others, ought to consider his station, not so much a noble and high post, as a charge and office, which indispensably obliges him to be always ready to defend and assist his subjects. This may be an allusion to what is said, Deu 17:20 that the heart of the king of Israel ought not to be lifted up above his brethren; and generally, indeed, true greatness consists in a man's humbling himself, and condescending to the meanest and lowest offices, if hereby he can at all advance the true happiness of his fellow-creatures.
Matthew 20:28. Even as the Son of man— "The greatness of my disciples consists in doing men all the good they possibly can, by a continual course of humble laborious services, in imitation of me your master, whose greatness consists not in being ministered to by men, but in ministering to them as a servant; by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, instructing the ignorant, and laying downmy life a ransom for the sins of many." This being the highest dignity in Christ's kingdom, he might well tell the two brothers, that they did not know what they were asking, when they begged the honour of filling the highest stations in it. Instead of not to be ministered unto, but to minister, Dr. Heylin reads, not to be served, but serve; and instead of let him be your servant, Mat 20:27 let him perform the meanest offices. It does not follow, that because it is said Christ gave his life a ransom for many, that Christ died not for all. The word πολλοι being used in other places, where it most evidently signifies all. See Dan 12:2 compared with John 5:28-29. Rom 5:15 compared with 1 Corinthians 15:22.
Matthew 20:29. And as they departed, &c.— St. Luke says, that the blind man was cured as our Lord drew nigh to Jericho, Luk 18:35 and before he passed through the town, ch. Matthew 19:1. The other Evangelists say, the miracle was performed as he departed from Jericho. But their accounts may be reconciled three different ways: First, Jesus arriving about mid-day entered Jericho, and having visited his acquaintance, or done any thing else that he had to do, returned in the evening by the gate through which he had gone in. As he was coming out, he passed by the beggars, and cured them. The next day he entered into and passed through Jericho in his way to Jerusalem. There is nothing improbable in this solution; for if our Lord was a night in that part of the country, he might spend it in some of the neighbouring villages, rather than in the city, where he had many enemies.—It may be objected, that St. Luke seems to say the miracle was performed as Jesus went towards Jericho, not as he was coming away, εγενετο δε εν τω εγγιζειν αυτον εις Ιεριχω ; but if the opinion of Grotius, Le Clerc, and others, may be relied upon, the phrase εν τω εγγιζειν, stands here for εν του εγγυς ειναι, while he was near Jericho. The second solution is as follows: the blind man, of whom St. Luke speaks, may have cried for a cure as Jesus went into Jericho about noon, though he did not obtain it then. The multitude rebuked him, and Jesus passed without giving him any answer, intending to make the miracle more illustrious. Towards evening, therefore, as he was returning, the blind beggar, who had cried after him in the morning, being joined by a companion in the sameunhappy condition with himself, renewed his suit, beseeching the Son of David to have mercy on them. The multitude, as before, rebuked them for makingsuch a noise; but the season of the miracle being come, Jesus stood still, called them to him and cured them: it may be objected, that St. Luke makes no distinction between the beggar's calling to Christ in the morning, and the cure performed in the evening as he came out, but connects the two events, as if they had happened in immediate succession.—The answer is, there areseveral undeniable examples of this kind of connection to be found in the Sacred History, particularly in St. Luke's Gospel, Luke 23:25-26; Luke 24:4, &c. The third solution of the difficulty is this: Jericho, having been a flourishing city before the Israelites entered Canaan, must, in the course of so many ages, have undergone various changes from war and other accidents; we may therefore suppose that it consisted of an old and a new town, situated at a little distance from each other. On this supposition, the beggars sitting on the road between the two towns, might be said to have gained their cure either as Jesus departed from the one, or drew nigh to the other, according to the pleasure of the historians. The reader, however, must not look upon this as a mere supposition; for, on examination, he will find clear proof of it in the Sacred History. We are told (Joshua 6:24; Joshua 6:26.) that after the Israelites had burned Jericho, Joshua, their general, interdicted by a curse the rebuilding of it. His curse struck such terror into the Israelites, that for the space of five hundred years no man attempted to rebuild Jericho, till Hiel the Bethelite, in the days of Ahab, brought it upon himself, by venturing to raise the old city out of her ashes. 1 Kings 16:34. But though the old city thus continued in ruins for many ages, there was a town very soon built not far from it, to which they gave its name: for so early as Eglon's time we read of the city of Palm-trees, Judges 3:13 a name peculiar to Jericho on account of the fine palm-trees with which it was environed. Deuteronomy 34:3. 2 Chronicles 28:15. Besides, we find Jericho, some time after this, expressly mentioned by name, it being the town where David ordered his messengers to abide till their beards, which Hanun king of Moab caused to be shaved, were grown. Wherefore, as there was a Jericho before Hiel rebuilt the ancient town, which Joshua destroyed, it cannot, I think, be doubted, that from Hiel's days there were two cities of this name, at no great distance from each other; perhaps a mile or so. Besides, Josephus insinuates, that both of them subsistedinhistime;expresslydeclaring,"thatthespringwhich watered the territories of Jericho arose near the old town." See Bell. Jude 1:5:4. Thus therefore we have an easy and perfect reconciliation of the seemingly contradictory accounts which the Evangelists have given of our Lord's miracle on the blind men in this part of the country. But although there had been no hint in antiquity, directing us to believe there were two cities of the name of Jericho, not far from each other, every reader must acknowledge, that to have supposed this, would have been sufficient to our purpose of reconciling the Evangelists, because there are such towns to be met with in every country; a thing which of itself must have rendered the supposition not only possible, but probable; and I may venture to say, that had two prophane histories related any fact with the disagreeing circumstances found in the Evangelists, the critics would have thought them good reasons for such a supposition, especially if the historians were writers of character, and had been either eye-witnesses of the things which they related, or informed by the eye-witnesses of them. To conclude, this instance may teach us never to despair of finding a proper and full solution of any imagined inconsistency that is to be met with in the Sacred History. The city of Jericho, for greatness and opulence, was inferior to none in Palestine; Jerusalem excepted. It was beautified with a palace for the reception of the governor, if he chose to go thither, with an amphitheatre for public shews, and a hippodrome for horse-races. The city was pleasantly situated, at the foot of that range of hills which bounded the Campus Magnus to the west. The country round was the most fertile spot in Canaan; yielding, besides the necessaries of life in great abundance, the best palms, also excellent honey, and the famed balsam-tree, the most precious production of the earth. The fruitfulness of this region was owing to various causes, and among the rest to a fine spring with which it was watered, and which anciently was sweetened by the prophet Elisha, who blessed the land likewise, by God's command, with perpetual and extraordinary fruitfulness. 2 Kings 2:18-22. The air was exceedingly mild; for when it snowed in the other provinces of Palestine, and was so cold that they were obliged to make use of the warmest clothing, the inhabitants of this place went about clad in linen only. Hence, as Josephus tells us, the territory of Jericho was called θειον χωριου, a heavenly country, resembling paradise for beauty and prospect, fertility of soil, and felicity of climate. The fountain which enriched this delightful spot was so large, as to deserve the name of a water or river, (Joshua 16:1.) and refreshed a plain of seventy stadia long, and twenty broad; but the excellency of its quality is visible in its effects: for it gladdened the whole tract through which it glided, and made it look like a garden, affording a prospect more agreeable, as the neighbouring country was black and inhospitable. Jericho was a hundred and twenty stadia (that is, fifteen miles) from Jerusalem, almost due east, the country being mountainous; but thence to Jordan, which was at the distance of twenty stadia, or two miles and a half, and towards the Asphaltic lake, the land was flat and barren. See Macknight, and Reland's Palaest.
Matthew 20:30. And behold, two blind men— St. Mark and St. Luke speak only of one blind man who was cured near Jericho. St. Augustin is of opinion, that one of these was more remarkable than the other, being the son of Timeus, who seems to have been a person of some distinction; and that, having fallen into poverty and blindness, he was forced to beg for his bread. He thinks this a good reason for his being mentioned particularly by one of the Evangelists. It may be added, that he might himselfbe remarkable by the extraordinary earnestness with which he cried. See Aug. de Consen. Evang. lib. 2.
Matthew 20:31. Because they should hold their peace— That they might, &c.
Matthew 20:32. Jesus—said, What will ye, &c.— It is observable, that we never find Jesus bestowing an alms of money on any poor person falling in his way; yet this is no objection against his charity: for if the person who addressed him was incapable of working for his own subsistence by reason of bodily infirmity, it was much more noble, and much more becoming the dignity of the Son of God, to remove the infirmity, and put the beggar in a condition of supporting himself, than by the gift of a small sum to relieve his present want, which would soon return; such an alms being at best but a trifling and indirect method of helping him. On the other hand, if the beggars who applied to him were not in real distress through want or disease, but, under the pretence of infirmity or poverty, followed begging, as they deserved no encouragement, so they met with none from Jesus, who knew perfectly the circumstances of every particular person with whom he conversed. Besides, to have bestowed money on the poor was not only beneath Christ's dignity, but, having occasion to perform great cures on several beggars, it might have afforded his enemies a plausible pretence for affirming, that he bribed such as feigned diseases, to feign cures likewise, of which they gave him the honour. See Macknight.
Matthew 20:34. And they followed him— The blind men travelled along with Jesus, perhaps all the way to Jerusalem, being deeply affected with a sense of his power and goodness, and earnestlydesirous to shew their gratitude, by declaring openly to all the persons they met, what a great miracle Jesus had performed upon them. Besides by following him in the road without any guide, they put the truth of the miracle beyond all suspicion. Accordingly St. Luke tells us, Luk 18:43 that the people, when they saw what was done, were thankful to God for the mercy of the cure, and acknowledged the divine mission of the prophet who had performed it, and who, before the cure, had been addressed by the blind men as the Son of David, or the Messiah, The allegorical reflection which Erasmus makes on this circumstance is beautiful: "Thus Jesus by his touch cures the mind, which is blinded by worldly lusts, and gives light for this end, that we may follow his footsteps."
Inferences.—Of what vast meaning and high importance are the concluding words of our Lord's awakening parable in this chapter! Many are called, but few are chosen. We ought often to meditate upon them, that we may not content ourselves with having the offers of the Gospel made to us, or even with being admitted into the visible church of God, but may give all diligence to make our calling and election sure.
We are summoned to a course of holy labour, even to work in our Lord's vineyard; or in every station, whether public or private, to do our utmost to promote the glory of God, and the happiness of mankind. With so many calls, and so many advantages, shall we stand all the day idle? No; rather let us be active and patient, and cheerfully willing to bear all the burden and heat of the day in so good a cause; knowing that ere long the evening will come, and that he who employs us, saith, Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be.
It is an encouraging thought to those who have long neglected the great business of life, that some were called at the eleventh hour; but it will be dangerous indeed for any to presume on their having such a call. It will be delusive and erroneous to strain the parable so far, as to imagine that an equal reward awaits all, without any regard to their characters or improvements; for this is most contrary to the reason of things, to the word of God, and to the great intent of that day, which is to render to every man according to his works. The Gentiles are indeed now called to equal privileges with the Jews, to which this circumstance of the parable refers; and we all see how odious a temper it was in that favourite nation to be offended with the Gospel on that account, which should rather have recommended it to their most joyful acceptance. It should be our care to avoid every degree of envy, whoever may be put on a level with, or preferred to us; acknowledging the sovereign right of God to do what he will with his own, nor suffering our eye to be evil and malicious, because he is bountiful and good. To prevent this, we should labour after that unfeigned love to the brethren, which will never allow us to repine at their advancement, but will engage us to rejoice in their honour and happiness; so shall we exchange the basest and most uneasy passion of human nature, for that which is of all others the noblest and most delightful.
He, who had his own time and ours in his hand, foreknew and foretold the approach of his dissolution; Matthew 20:17-19. When men are near their end, and ready to make their will, then is it reasonable to sue for legacies. Thus did the mother of Zebedee's children. It is an uncommon stile which is given to this woman. It had been as easy to have said the wife of Zebedee, or the sister of Mary, or of Joseph, or plain Salome; but now, by an unusual description; she is stiled the mother of Zebedee's children. Zebedee was an obscure man; she, as his wife, was no better: the greatest honour she ever had, or could have, was to have two such sons as James and John; those gave a title to both their parents. Honour ascends as well as descends; holy children dignify the loins whence they proceed, no less than they derive honour from their parents. Salome might be a good wife, a good woman, a good neighbor, but all these cannot ennoble her so much as being the mother of Zebedee's children.
The suit was the sons'; but by the mouth of their mother. It is not discommendable in parents to seek the preferment of their children: why may not Abraham sue for an Ishmael? So it be by lawful means, in a moderate measure, and in due order, this endeavour cannot be amiss.
He, who knew all their thoughts afar off, yet, as if he had been a stranger to their purposes, asks, What wouldest thou? Our infirmities do then best shame us, when they are drawn out of our own mouths; like as our prayers also serve not to acquaint God with our wants, but to make us the more capable of his mercies.
Our Saviour had said, that his twelve followers should sit upon twelve thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. This good woman would have her two sons next his person, the prime peers of his kingdom. Every one is apt to wish the best for his own: worldly honour is neither worth our suit, nor unworthy our acceptance: yes, Salome, had thy mind been in heaven; hadst thou intended this desired pre-eminence in that desired state of glory, yet I know not how to justify thine ambition.
The mother asks, the sons have the answer. To convince them of their unfitness for glory,—they are sent to their impotency in suffering, Are ye able, &c.? Matthew 20:22. O Saviour! even thou, who art one with thy Father, hadst a cup of thine own; never portion was so bitter as that which was mixed for thee; it is not enough for thee to sip of this cup, thou must drink it up even to the very dregs. When the vinegar and gall were tendered to thee by men, thou didst but kiss the cup; but when thy Father gave into thine hands a portion infinitely more distasteful; thou for our health didst drink deep of it, even to the bottom; and saidst, It is finished. And can we repine at those unpleasing draughts of affliction which are tempered for us sinful men, when we see thee, the Son of thy Father's love, thus dieted? We pledge thee, O blessed Saviour! we pledge thee according to our weakness, who hast begun to us in thy powerful sufferings: only do thou enable us, after the natural struggles of reluctant nature are over, at last willingly to pledge thee in our constant sufferings for thee; for if thou hast not grudged thy precious blood to us, well mayst thou challenge some worthless drops from us; through many tribulations must we enter into the kingdom of heaven. Let who will hope to walk upon roses and violets thither, I will trace thee, O Saviour! by the track of thy blood, and by thy red steps follow thee to thine eternal rest.
The motion of the two disciples was not more full of infirmity than their answer:—We are able; out of an eager desire of the honour, they are ready to undertake the condition. The best men may be mistaken in their own powers: alas, how striking an instance have we in the case of our Lord's followers! when it came to the issue, They all forsook him, and fled. It is one thing to suffer in speculation, another in practice. There cannot be a worse sign than for a man in a carnal presumption to vaunt of his own abilities: how justly does God suffer that man to be foiled, on purpose that he may be ashamed of his own vain confidence! O God, let me ever be humbled in the sense of my own insufficiency; let me give all the glory to thee, and take nothing to myself but my infirmities.
Oh the wonderful mildness of the Son of God! He does not chide the two disciples, either for their ambition in suing, or their presumption in undertaking; but, leaving the worst, he takes the best of their answer; and, omitting their errors, encourages their good intentions. Ye shall drink indeed, &c. Matthew 20:23. Were it not as high honour to drink of thy cup, O Saviour, thou hadst not promised it as a favour: I am deceived, if what thou grantedst was much less than that which thou deniedst. To pledge thee in thine own cup, is not much less dignity and familiarity than to sit by thee. If we suffer with thee, we shall also reign together with thee: what greater promotion can flesh and blood be capable of, than a conformity to the Lord of life and glory?—Enable thou me to drink of thy cup, and then seat me where thou wilt.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The parable with which this chapter opens, is a comment on the text which concluded the foregoing chapter, and represents to us the Gospel dispensation, and this with particular application to the Jews and Gentiles; the former of whom were ever for excluding the latter from all the blessings of the Messiah's kingdom, and could never endure the thoughts of the heathen being admitted to equal privileges with themselves. But so God had ordained; and though for their fathers' sakes the first offers of the Gospel were to be made to them, yet the Gentiles were shortly to be admitted to the same high privileges, and glorious dispensation. But I have enlarged so fully on this parable, in the critical notes and the Inferences, that I refer my reader to them for every thing which I judge it necessary to advance on this subject.
2nd, To prepare them for that scene of distress and sufferings on which he was about to enter, our Lord once more took his disciples apart, as they went up together to Jerusalem, and repeated what he had said before, chap. Matthew 16:21 Mat 17:22-23 informing them now more particularly concerning the manner of his sufferings and death, which he had foretold: that he should not only be betrayed into his enemies' hands, but persecuted with unrelenting malice, and by a most unrighteous sentence condemned to die: that he should be delivered to the Gentiles, the Romans, who alone had then the power of life and death in Judaea; and, after enduring the most shocking and barbarous indignities, should suffer death—tidings that no doubt filled them with horror and dismay: but he adds, for their comfort and support, that on the third day he should rise again. Note; In all the troubles that we feel or fear, it is a comfort to look forward to a resurrection-day.
3rdly, Far from being cured of their national prejudices by all the sufferings which our Lord had foretold them he should endure, they concluded that these would be only the prelude to the glorious manifestation of his temporal power at his rising again. And therefore,
1. Two of the disciples, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, with their mother Salome, who is supposed to have been nearly related to Joseph, and might therefore hope to have a strong interest in Jesus, came to their Master, and, through her preferring their request, with deep respect she besought him to grant her a favour; and being ordered to name it, she desired him to confer on her two sons the first honours of that temporal kingdom which they shortly expected would appear.
2. Pitying their ignorance and weakness, instead of upbraiding their pride and folly, our Lord turned to the two disciples, and gently admonished them, saying, Ye know not what ye ask: your notions of the nature of my kingdom are utterly mistaken: it is not an earthly throne to which I shall be exalted: and as mistaken are you in the means of attaining the honours that you seek. You are not aware of the sufferings and trials which must be endured by all those who would come to reign with me. Through much tribulation lies the entrance into heaven; and can you, think ye, drink of my bitter cup, or bear to be baptized in blood, as I must shortly be? Such sufferings as these they were not prepared for: their ambition looked so high, that they saw not the dangers which were before them, nor knew what manner of spirit they were of. Note; (1.) They who would reign with Christ, must first suffer with him; and every Christian should well count the cost, before he begins to take up his cross. (2.) In all our sufferings it should sweeten our cup to think that Christ has drank of it before us, and all the bitterness of sin he has taken away.
3. Their self-confidence is a natural consequence of their pride; and therefore without hesitation they boldly engage for their own ability and fidelity; though, alas! they were sad strangers to themselves, and knew not what they said. Note; Young converts are often very forward, till sad experience has taught them their own weakness.
4. Christ replies, and assures them that they shall suffer for him, and in a manner which they probably at that time little apprehended. But though they did so, still he left their request in suspense. The honour they sought was not to be given, unless to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. See the notes.
5. The same ambitious spirit which spake in the request of John and James, equally appeared in the indignation of the other ten against them; who each thought himself as much entitled to the superiority which they desired. They did not grieve for the sin of their brethren, but were angry at what they conceived an affront to themselves; and, while they violently condemned the ambition of the other disciples, were, like too many, blind to the same spirit in their own hearts. Note; Desire of pre-eminence is among the most fruitful sources of disputes among brethren. Instead of being in his own eyes the last and the least, each is for assuming a superiority, which the proud heart of his fellow is very unwilling to admit.
6. To silence the dispute, and strike at the root of the evil, Jesus with the greatest tenderness called them to him; and, to beat down that spirit of ambition, so evil in itself, and so peculiarly unbecoming their holy and humble profession, he endeavours to undeceive them respecting the nature of his kingdom, which was purely spiritual. The kings and princes of the Gentiles indeed thirsted after dominion and despotic sway, and the more potent exercised unbounded authority over their weaker vassals and subjects; but utterly unlike them must their conduct be. Their greatness must consist, not in lording it over God's heritage, but in their abounding labours; not in aspiring desires to rule, but in humble endeavours to promote the salvation of men's souls. The only laudable ambition that Jesus can approve, is the holy strife who shall be most condescending, and the first in every work and labour of love to serve the meanest who bear the Christian name. Nor did he, their Master, recommend aught to them, of which himself had not set them an eminent example, who came not to take state upon himself, and be served with earthly pomp and grandeur; but humbled himself to the lowest offices in the service of men's souls and bodies; and, after living the life of a servant, was about to die the death of a slave; that by the sacrifice of himself he might give his life a ransom for many, even for the whole world, but especially for them that believe and endure to the end; in order to redeem them from the guilt and power of their sins, and from the wrath of God which they had provoked: having him therefore for such a pattern of humility, they were peculiarly obliged to copy after it. Note; (1.) The affectation of earthly pomp and splendor is utterly unbecoming those who pretend to be the ministers of the meek and humble Jesus. (2.) The church of Christ has never suffered greater injuries than from the tyranny and oppression of those, who, professing to be the successors of the Apostles, seem to have inherited nothing from them, but that lordly, ambitious, and domineering spirit, for which Jesus so justly reprimanded them. (3.) The only allowable ambition among the ministers of Christ is, who shall be most humble and serviceable to their brethren, and herein most conform to their blessed Master's image.
4thly, Advancing still towards Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples passed through Jericho, attended as usual by a vast multitude, whom curiosity to hear him or to see his miracles, desire to learn, or want of his healing influence, had drawn together; when behold a wondrous instance of his power and compassion appears.
1. Two blind men, beggars, sat by the way-side, and hearing from some of the multitude, that the famed prophet of Nazareth, who had wrought so many miracles, was passing by, they immediately concluded it a most providential circumstance, and with united and loud supplications cried out incessantly, Have mercy on us, O Lord thou Son of David. Note; (1.) In these blind beggars we may behold a lively emblem of our own souls in their natural state. Our understanding is darkness, and we are utterly destitute of all good, perishing inevitably in want and wretchedness, unless the divine mercy respect our misery and relieve us. (2.) They who feel their real state, will cry after Jesus, the only hope of the miserable and the destitute. (3.) Providential opportunities should be improved; if we neglect them now, they never may return.
2. They made so loud a noise, and cried so vehemently, that the multitude rebuked them as troublesome, and bade them be silent. But this only made them redouble their prayers, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David: thou, who art so able to help us, whose tender mercies have been so often extended to others, let our pitiable case engage thy notice, and move thy wonted compassions. And herein they have set us a noble example, (1.) Of fervent prayer. Their wants were great; they felt them with deep sensibility; therefore they cried so loud, so perseveringly: so should we do. We may meet with many discouragements in seeking Christ; but these, instead of silencing our prayer, should quicken our importunity. (2.) Of confident faith. They were fully persuaded, that what they asked, he was willing and able to grant them. His power as the Lord, his office as the Son of David, emboldened their trust in his mercy. It is by faith that we must thus in every distress honour Jesus by casting our care upon him, pleading his name as the ground of our confidence. (3.) Of deep humility. They ask for mercy alone, referring themselves intirely to him for the manner in which he pleases to dispense it to them. We have no merit; can claim nothing at God's hands; deserve nothing but wrath and hell: all our hope is in his boundless grace, to supply all our poverty and wretchedness, to pardon our guilt, and to bestow the graces of the spirit, and thereby all the great privileges of the gospel dispensation. This mercy grant, O Son of David!
3. Christ, who had heard their cries, and knew what rebukes they had met with, stood and called them to him; for he delights to revive the spirit of the contrite, and to relieve the wants of the miserable. He bids them therefore prefer their request, intimating his readiness to grant the mercy they had so importunately sought. Note; The promises of Christ give an unlimited scope to our prayers; we can ask nothing really good for us, which Jesus is not willing to borrow.
4. The poor blind men have a ready answer: Lord, that our eyes may be opened. They ask not for silver or gold, but for a boon far more difficult to be granted, which yet they are assured he can easily bestow. We have need to prefer the same prayer every day; and would to God we were more deeply affected with our spiritual blindness, that our applications might be more frequent and fervent.
5. Their cure is immediate. The compassions of Jesus left them not in suspense: he touched their eyes; a flood of day instantly broke upon them; and joining the company, they joyfully followed him, testifying their gratitude, love, and praise. Note; They who are enlightened by the Redeemer's grace, will from that moment cleave to him in his holy ways, and gratefully labour to advance his glory.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 20". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13