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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Matthew 20

 

 


Verses 1-16

Chapter75

Prayer

Almighty God, we bless thee for all special days and sacred memories: they come to stimulate and encourage us in all holy things. We have seen the blackness of one day, its great cross and all its appalling solemnity, and now we stand in the brightness of a cloudless sky, rejoicing that the Lord is not in the tomb, but that be is risen and is our Priest for evermore. We bless thee for seeing an open grave—the tomb has been the great mystery of our experience, and the great pain and wonder of our forecast of life. We knew not what it was, but thou hast opened it and delivered the captive and set him on high and crowned him with immortality and infinite glory, and they that are Christ"s shall be brought with him at the last: thou wilt leave no grave unsearched, and thy jewels shall be gathered together. All thy buried ones shall awake and arise and come forth out of the dust, and them that sleep in Jesus thou wilt bring with him.

For all such hope we bless thee. This is a sure confidence and a source of exceeding strength. So now we can say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" It was but a moment"s victory, to be overcome with everlasting conquest, for death is swallowed up and the grave for ever forgotten. Help us to believe these sacred truths, to treasure them in our hearts, to draw from them inspiration in the time of weakness and fear and desolation, so that we may have songs in the night time and know not the pain and loneliness of orphanage. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort us; thou holdest a great light over the valley of the shadow of death; thou dost deliver with mighty deliverances all who put their whole trust in thy power and wisdom. This is our joy, our Song of Solomon , our unutterable delight, our ineffable peace. Lord, root us and ground us in these truths, and no stone shall fall upon us but to do us good; and the coming of death shall be the coming of our deliverer.

Do thou give us to know the joy of resurrection in the heart. Raise again every buried hope, revive every tender affection, give life again to all our noblest resolutions and purest ambitions. May we, now bending before thine altar, remember the words of love and loyalty which we uttered to thee in the days now far gone; and, recalling every one of these, with tender recollection and fondest gratitude, may we now rise into newness of life and be clothed with ever-enlarged affection towards thyself; may our service be stimulated by all that is noble in our own recollection, as well as all that is gracious in thy tender love.

Grant blessings unto the homes which we now represent. Come to every life that is here and to every spirit that is present, and reveal thyself in tender glory. Thou wilt not dazzle us with intolerable light: thou wilt shine upon us with subdued splendour, so that we may be able to bear the revelation and enjoy it, and feel in its warmth the prophecy of a still broader and warmer summer. Deliver us from all evil, we humbly pray thee, in the name and strength of him who today rose again from the dead. May his power be in our hearts, may his grace rule our spirits, may his love be the secret of our devotion and the defence of our character—may we in all things seek to glorify Christ, and to have no other purpose or ambition in the world.

For all thy tender care our life long we bless thee. Our first breath was thine, our last thou wilt take unto thyself; and all the days between thou wilt make precious by thy presence and memorable by thy redemptions and deliverances. Give us confidence, we humbly pray thee, in these solemn land gracious truths—then shall our hearts be quiet and shall cease from fear, and our life shall be profoundest peace.

Let thy blessing rest upon the land. God save the Queen, spare her life and increase her comfort and her joy. Direct all who lead our sentiment, and give us our attitude amongst the nations of the earth. Be with all great men, with all rulers, Judges , magistrates, and persons in authority, with all who direct our thinking and lead our sentiment, and grant unto every man the assurance that his work is blest from on high. Disappoint those whose hearts are set on mischief, overrule events upon which we can exercise no decisive control, unfold our life unto us day by day, keep us from all impatience and impious curiosity, subdue within us the penetration that would spoil thy secrecy and transgress the mysteries of thy government; give us a holy resignation, a spirit of waiting, a calm assurance of faith, and the end shall see the meaning of it all, and in doing so thou wilt increase our love and heighten our song. Amen.

Matthew 20:1-16

The Larger Justice

We cannot understand this parable by itself: it is the puzzle of all persons who come upon it without paying any attention to the circumstances which led up to it. You see from the grammatical construction of the first verse that this parable belongs to something else—"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto." We must therefore ask, What has given occasion to this method of presenting the kingdom of heaven? Peter had put a selfish question. Having heard Christ"s speech about the rich man and his infinite difficulty in entering into the kingdom of God, Peter said to Jesus, "Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?" He wanted his Christianity to pay, his eye was wandering in the direction of results, he wanted the quid pro quo. Now the parable was meant to show that the kingdom of heaven is not founded upon rules of barter: it is like unto a householder who proceeded upon a larger principle than had yet been tried, a principle which created antagonism at first, but which in the end vindicated itself.

Looking at this parable within its own limits, looking at it from a mere trade point of view, regarding it in the light of what we call political economy, it is absurd; it touches the sense of justice very sharply in every Prayer of Manasseh , and we are prepared to stand beside those who complain, and to say that they have a strong point in their favour. But the whole object of the parable is to show that there is to be no bargaining about the kingdom of heaven: it is not a question of time, of pennies, of understandings and covenants that can be measured in the marketplace. By this parable Jesus Christ lifts the kingdom of heaven right away above all trade considerations and all economical criticisms, making a new thing of it altogether, and carrying itself up into a larger and completer justice than could be measured by our arithmetics and reckonings and commercial laws. God has one reward for all—he gives to every man a penny—the last is as enriched as the first, and the first as the last—so it seems to be. Yet it is not so. Jesus here takes delight in confounding us, utterly turning upside down all our favourite calculations and canons of justice and rules of barter. From end to end he upsets our regulations and calculations, and it was his delight to do Song of Solomon , to mystify and bewilder us, and to bring in a householder who contradicted every rule of every trade and every instinct of limited justice.

Has God only one reward for all? So in very deed it would seem from this parable. Do you tell me that the martyrs who went up to heaven in chariots of fire shall have no more than the child that died in its mother"s arms with a believing prayer, who had never encountered one difficulty or endured one great trial for Christ? Has the martyr a penny and the child a penny equally? Shall the old worn-out missionary, who has gone to heathen lands and suffered all the dangers of travel and the perils of climate, and all the difficulties of strange relationship—shall he have no more than the man who has never gone out of his own country, but who has enjoyed Christianity as presented by and defended by the highest and richest civilisation of his day? Has each to have but the bare penny? So it would seem on the face of this parable, and yet there is not a word of truth in that representation. The martyr, and the man who has died in what may be called the luxury of Christianity, cannot have the same in reality, though they may have the same in mere denomination of quantity.

Therein is a mystery easy of explanation, not, perhaps, easy to be set out in so many words; but the martyr and the non-martyr, each receiving his penny, have not received the same, except in mere nominal value. We are rewarded as we go. We get a victory in every fight, we have a heaven every sunset; we are paid by the hour, by the moment, by the breathing. We get what we can receive, we are rewarded according to our capacity, and we are not at liberty, according to this parable, to estimate things by hours and by pennies and by time spent, but by another law which comes into revelation and operation oftentimes beyond the limits of mere words, so that we cannot explain the law to a man who has not actually lived under its beneficent operation.

God will not have our calculations in the church. He says the first shall be last and the last first—what does he mean? Does he mean, in a merely literal sense, that he will put Judas in the place of Peter and Peter in the place of Judas, and thus perform a little fantastic trick in arrangement and gradation in his kingdom? No. What, then, does he mean? To expel the whole system of reckoning from his church—to banish arithmetic, and all that little, dwarfed, mistaken reasoning that pretends to say how things should be in the eternal sphere. He takes your arithmetic out of your hand, and says, "Make no use of this in the church." He takes your dried-up, desiccated reason, that adds two and two, and says they make four, and he says, "They do not, in the church: such reckoning in the marketplace may be right enough, but in the church none of your two-and-two reasoning; another law, wider and higher, and all-comprehending, must rule the spirit and the administration of things Christian." How, then, we are snuffed out, and how our knuckles are rapped by the iron rod, and how we are beaten back when we come to reckon up things by numbers and gradations and appointments, and all the arrangements of the Heavenly hierarchy! We are reasoning by arithmetic, and Christ says, "He who has worked from sunrise to sundown shall have a penny: he who has worked only one hour towards the westering of the sun shall have a penny. The first shall be last and the last first." He takes delight in confounding our reckoning and making confusion of our mighty reasonings. If he did so in this parable only, it might be difficult to maintain the position, but it is the rule of his universe. Thus you say it was unjust on the part of the man to give those labourers who came in at the eleventh hour as much as was given to those labourers who went out early in the morning. Are you sure that your notion of the word just is right? May not the word "just" be a larger word than you have yet realized? May we not need larger and truer definitions of common terms in order to enable us to rise to the height of these great Christian arguments? Consider whether there is not a point in that suggestion.

But see, and tell me how your idea of "just" vindicates itself under such circumstances as these. Here is a child a day old, and that child is tainted with a disease for which itself is in no degree accountable. Its life will be a pain, its days will be a burden, its future will be a cloud, and yet the little one is in no degree responsible for the tremendous and insufferable infliction under which it groans. Is that just? And yet it is a fact. God will not accept our little ideas of justice: he always rebukes them. They are too narrow, they are too shallow, they do not bring in all the terms and elements which belong to the subject. We see within the limits of a day, we draw a little circle around us, and call that little circumference the sum-total of all things. God will show us a wider revelation some day: he will give us a right scale of measurement, and then we shall know that what we thought was injustice was but one section of a grand whole. He will "vindicate eternal providence and justify his ways to men."

Take, again, the notion of sin and everlasting punishment, and see the very principle of this parable in active operation there. Let the case stand thus. Take what notion you please of the words "everlasting punishment,"—let them mean everlasting destruction, complete annihilation, or eternal torment; the definition of these terms has no relation to what I am now about to say—but take them in any sense, and then answer whether it is just that a man who has lived a few years in a world he never asked to come into, and who has sinned those few years all through, staining every moment of them with blackness—what are the moments but a handful, what are the days but a sharp sudden breathing and all is over, a spasm and the life is forgotten—and yet for these few days" sinning he shall be thrust into a lake of fire, shut up there for ever to burn in eternal consciousness of pain, or shall be snuffed, obliterated out of the universe, or shall die a lingering and painful death in some hidden hell? Where is the proportion? There is none.

The parable is written upon all the economies of God"s administration. If it were a question of arithmetic, a question of quid pro quo—thus much sin and thus much punishment—there could be no proportion between the sin possible to a man in all his seventy years if he never slept an hour, if he cursed God in every throbbing moment of the seventy years—there could be no proportion between that short blasphemy and infinite duration of penalty. So the Lord teaches us in this parable that we must not begin to reckon, and to audit God"s ways, and to carry forward sums, and bring up additions, and make an arithmetical calculation of his providence and his way. The first shall be last and the last first—the missionary shall have nominally as much as the man who never went from home, and the martyr shall have the same penny in mere name that is given to the man who lived a life of Christian ease, useful enough within its own limits, but without one pang of martyr fear, without one throb of martyr suffering.

So the parable is not written here once for all. It is the parable of the universe, it is the mystery of providence; it shows itself as vividly in the higher and nobler aspect of reward as in the aspect of punishment. What relation, arithmetical or statistical, is there between believing and eternal life? Some men seem as if they could not help believing. It comes, in a sense hardly to be explained, natural to them to go to church and to believe and to be good. They seem to have no individual Devil that tears their life in twain every day, that blows away with hot hell-breath their devotional breathings at the throne of the heavenly grace. They are not tortured, torn, mangled, pursued, but they fall with easy grace into ways that are good. What relation is there between their believing and eternal honour, Heavenly paradises, celestial inheritances, immeasurable duration of bliss? Why, if they had believed the moment they breathed, and if they had been singing hymns all their life, and doing deeds of charity through all the cycle of the seventy years, what relation could there possibly be between seventy years, how crowned soever with service and sacrifice, and innumerable millions of ages of reward? There is no relation. You cannot find out God to perfection in this matter, you cannot search him with arithmetic, you cannot make his ways equal by statistical schedules, your barter laws are not known here. This is the great mystery of life—a revelation of a wider justice, a glimpse of an infinite administration that will not stop to be measured by the measurements of sense and time, and our dwarfed and crippled justice.

Jesus never departs from the spirit of this parable. Wherever we find him, he is living this parable out. Thus: "How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" Peter will be arithmetical; he will have two sines in his book; he is determined to reduce everything to logarithms: "How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?" and in some mood of charity, very sublime to him, he says, suggestively, "until seven times?" Jesus anticipates this very parable, condenses it into a sentence, says, "Until seventy times seven." What is the meaning of that representation? The evident meaning is that there is to be no arithmetic in the church, no reckoning by Numbers , no algebraic symbol representing numerical value, no sign for "equal to" in all the reckoning of the church. Thus is the justice of God evidently displayed on the one side of life as manifestly as on the other, for he himself will not take a cup of cold water without giving back a cup of wine for it. Where is the relation arithmetical? There is none. He himself will not be sick and imprisoned and visited without giving all heaven in return. Where is the barter equality? There is none.

These reflections lead up to the still grander thought that reason as such, in its carnal limitations and possibilities, has no place in the inner and upper sanctuary of divine purpose and thought. There we live by faith, there we say, "Not my reason be done, but thy justice—not my will but thine be done."

Song of Solomon , then, we do the work without any reference to the reward. You who came to Christ full fifty years ago will have your penny—as well as the dying thief that had to bring only yesternight one foot out of hell. Will, you, then, be placed on equal terms? It never can be so. Can a man of fine capacity and mind go along any road and have as the result of his walking only that which the common clodhopper has, who "thought the moon no bigger than his father"s shield, and the visual line that girt him round the world"s extreme"? Have they both equal enjoyment out of the same circumstances? It is impossible. The walk to the philosopher is a walk in church, a climbing up the altar stairs. He sees angels, he hears voices, he is touched by reverences, he is in the presence and sanctuary of God. Yet the road the same, the day the same—the road through a garden, the day the queenliest in all the summer train, yet in that walk one man found heaven, the other only a convenient road to a place to sleep in.

So with Christian service. We get out of it according to our capacity. We are rewarded by the work itself, and we are to enter into it in the spirit of love, and in no other spirit. Yet ye say the way of the Lord is not equal. Judging him by this parable you would come to false conclusions about the law of the kingdom of heaven. The teaching of the parable is this; no reckoning in Numbers , no clever schedule-making in the church, no comparative statistics—banish the whole of them, and live in love. Beware of the statistician in the church: he will mislead you, though he says he takes the prose of facts. Facts may be so represented as to be lies. The statist tells me that our service last year amounted to, say, ten thousand, and our service this year amounts to, say, two thousand, therefore he says we have gone down. He seems to have right upon his side: people say you cannot quarrel with figures. Within given limits that statement is perfectly true; but the limits themselves are wrong. Within given limits the earth stands still, and yet the earth never pauses for one moment. Within given limits you can draw a straight line upon the face of the earth, and yet, really and truly, no line upon a globe can be straight. I must therefore go further in my judgment, and ask under what circumstances the two thousand was realized? Circumstances of great depression, circumstances of great trial and trouble, circumstances that made strong men tremble, and hopeful men begin to feel the coldness of a great fear, and under those circumstances the result was two thousand. Under what circumstances the ten thousand? Summer all the year round: the earth but touched, and she laughed in flowers and in fruits; the hand but put out, and it brought back riches. Then the two thousand are more than the ten! The first shall be last and the last first!

Let God be Judges , and banish foolish talk about the eleventh hour, and the first hour, and the heat and burden of the day, and the penny given to each and all alike. You can make a tale of distress out of it, but in the soul of it God will justify himself.


Verses 17-34

Chapter76

Prayer

Almighty God, how can we bless thee for this Jesus Christ, who speaks of himself as the Son of Man? Thus would he come very nearly to us; calling himself the Son of God he stands away, but calling himself the Son of Man we feel his infinite strength drawing us into his own security. We bless thee every day for the sweetest name of Jesus: it makes the days bright and warm, it brings the summer of Heaven upon all the lands of time, it makes us glad in the night season, and rapturous in the valley. We thank thee for the cross: so ghastly, indeed, and yet so winsome: having no beauty that we should desire it, and yet growing up out of its black root into infinite blossoming and beauty and fruitfulness, the very tree of life set in the midst of the nations. Sacred cross, holy thing, made by man but accepted by God. As thou didst turn the bread into flesh and the wine into blood, so hast thou turned the barren wood into a great living tree.

Thou dost turn all things to higher uses. Behold what manner of love thou hast bestowed even upon us that we should be called the sons of God. And it doth not appear what we shall be: thou dost not reveal our whole future to us in one great breadth of outlook, but day by day, yea, moment by moment, dost thou come to us with some new revealment, some unexpected light, some uncomprehended beauty. Thou art able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think: as the Heaven is high above the earth, so are thy thoughts higher than our thoughts. We are lame and blind, we are withered and dead: thou must do the whole miracle, we cannot even pray thee to do it, we can but ask thee dumbly, in the extremity of our helplessness, to do what thou wilt of thy clemency.

Thou always hast compassion. God is love—Jesus wept. Jesus, Son of Prayer of Manasseh , Son of God, have mercy on us. We would be good, and oh, thou knowest how subtle is the enemy and how hard the road. Our hearts leap up in great prayers and our lives yearn oftentimes to become holy sacrifices unto God, and yet our prayer is stopped ere it reach thee, and our life is killed before it reach the altar. Yet thou knowest it all, there is no surprise in Heaven: thou dost understand our constitution, thou knowest that we are but dust, a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away. What is our life? It is a vapour, dying whilst it burns and flickers in the air. Our breath is in our nostrils, we are tottering to the tomb, we are gropers in the darkness, and yet there are in us passions and impulses, strange forces that terrify us by their energy and their ardour. Surely we shall see the time of Revelation , and enjoy the all-brightening light, and know why we are and what we are, and out of all the retrospect we shall gather some grand new hymn ineffable in sweetness, eternal in gratitude.

Look upon us, poor bruised ones: we have come back from the week"s fight and we are tired: we have left the week"s business and we would think awhile of Heaven. We have left behind us all that could bring down our whole soul to the earth, that we might look up from this place of the altar to the great heights, and inhale the very air of heaven. Pity us: carry the lambs in thy bosom, give special grace and uplifting of heart and hope to the man who wants to be better, and who dreads the return of the curse that slays him. Give light that shall be as a revelation from God to the child doomed to daily embarrassment and perplexity teach those who have knocked at the door and had no answer to knock again, and whilst they stand on the outside do thou speak comfortably to their waiting hearts.

The Lord heal the sick, and be pitiful to those who have no friends, and come in by every door and window to the houses where sits the black desolation. Give the young chastening suited to the enthusiasm of the moment: thou wilt not blow out the light of their hope, thou wilt rather watch it and rekindle it and give it strengthening, till it shall fulfil its type in all the glory of the final revelation.

Look at those who are just going to drink of the cup of happiness, and are afraid it will never reach the lip. Lord, help them to drink deeply, for their life has been a weary one, and one draught of gladness will today lift them up into ecstasy. Be with our dear ones who are not herein the sick chamber, in the nursery, in the place of sad solitude, on the great sea, far away in the other countries of the globe—building up their homes, and blessing their firesides.

The Lord unite us in the indissoluble fellowship of sympathy with the heart of Christ: wash us in his dear blood, precious blood, blood of sacrifice, blood of atonement. Amen.

Matthew 20:17-34

The Flan of Life

He had told them this before: he had indeed nothing else to tell them. Whatever else he said belonged to this pathetic and sublime Revelation , and was, as compared with it, but as the small dust of the balance. Look what a plan this is. Life is a plan—you will have trouble and grievous unrest and dreams that will plague you like enemies at night, if you do not seize the all-restful idea that life is not a game of chance, but a Divine plan. The very hairs of your head are all numbered: not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father. Your troubles are all reckoned, your tears are all numbered. The valleys that you would not have on the road were all excavated by the Divine hand. Every controversy, every cross wind, every cold steep climb up the barren rocks—all is included, fore-appointed, and is part of the Divine purpose. There hath no temptation befallen you but such as is common to man. With every temptation God will make a way of escape. Brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations, for every trial has its own purpose and its own sweet outcome. He knoweth the way that I take, and when he hath tried me he will bring me forth as gold. This verse has about it all the beauty and massiveness of an architectural fabric: it is not a heap of loose stones, it is a building with shape and polish and high utility. So is your life.

Why then this restlessness and feverishness and miserable dis content? All things work together for good to them that love God. Fear not, little flock: it is your Father"s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. "I am persuaded," said one who spoke soberly and inspiredly, "that he which hath begun a good work in you will carry it on until the day of redemption, completion, and perfectness." There are parts of the plan you do not like, but you must deal with the plan as an entirety, and do not suppose that the unfinished house is the complete building. By-and-by it will be finished, and then God will allow you to say what you think of his high meaning.

Observe this is a whole plan, it is not part of a design, it is not one little patch plucked out of the pattern—the whole thing is here. I found an argument upon that circumstance. Nothing happened to Christ that is not in this paragraph. What do you make of that? Remember the circumstances, recall and Revelation -live the tragedy, and tell me what you say to this—that nothing occurred in any tittle of incident or throb of pain that is not in this paragraph. The going up, the betrayal, the condemnation, the mocking, scourging, crucifying, rising again—are all gone through before one cruel hand is laid upon him, or one mocker dares spit in that holy face. The man who can so deal with his future cannot be crucified, in any sense that will bring him into despair. He discounts the future; its tragedies come to him in a sense as commonplaces, its crosses are but punctuations of a literature which he himself has written, and perused, and approved as to its final outcome and significance. We are troubled because we have no great outlook: we take in no field of vision, our life comes into our house in little pieces, in mocking details, and not knowing what is going to come next, we fret ourselves with sore chafing. The one thing we need not know is the detail, the great thing we may know is the solemn wholeness.

Herein Jesus Christ endeavoured to strengthen the missionaries when he sent them out. We have seen in our examination of the great missionary charge, which he delivered in the tenth chapter of this gospel, that Jesus Christ spread all the future before his agents, told them of the mocking and the scourging and the delivering up to the Councils and banishment from the synagogues—ay, he made the winter of a grievous desolation howl with its bitter winds, before they took a step from the sanctuary of his own presence, and his own immediate protection. That is how to live.

Tell me how is this, that the whole thing is known to Jesus before it is done by the Jews and Gentiles? He was mocked and scourged and spat upon and crucified and reviled, within himself; so when it came to him, he received it with ineffable meekness and acquiescence in the Divine will. He was never surprised. He did not turn round and say, "What—this indignity never entered into my contemplation of the sad event: smitten upon the head with a reed, struck on the cheek-bone with a clenched hand, spat upon."—He never said, "This did not come within my view when I looked upon the scene that was coming." It was all reckoned, it was all expected, it was all borne with corresponding equanimity,—with the astounding peace which passeth understanding.

Surely he will walk now straight upon this great height, and have no more interruption. Such is not the case. In a moment he is pulled down from his elevation as we have seen him upon former occasions. "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee"s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him." When have we ever seen the occasion kept up throughout his whole purpose and scheme in this life of Jesus Christ? Never. He had never climbed a mount of sublimity from which he is not brought down by some ruthless and mean hand. He was all but crucified in the nineteenth verse, and in the twentieth verse he is dragged down to answer a question of most selfish ambition. This action on the part of the mother of Zebedee"s children shows what misconstructions of a Divine plan are possible. We suppose that such and such misconstructions of human purpose never can be conceived. Read the life of Jesus Christ in answer to that vain imagination. It is possible to misconstrue God, it is possible to suppose that God is capable of mean ideas and selfish arrangements in his kingdom. What wonder that you and I should be misunderstood? Is it amazing beyond all imagination that you and I should not be comprehended in our small circle, when we have before us the astounding fact that nearly every word of Jesus Christ"s was taken hold of at the wrong end and turned to impious uses?

How was this woman revealed? She was revealed at the point of unreasonableness. We may have a thousand fantastic dreamings in our hearts, and a most vile self-consciousness, and no one need know anything about it, but the moment we become unreasonable we show what sin really Isaiah , in some of its practical relations and aspects. Men who could not understand sin in its abstract relation to God, as a spiritual offence, understand it and hate it the moment it assumes the attitude and exercises the prerogative of unreasonableness. We understand sin in some parts of its conjugation, not in its reality and essence.

The ten were moved with indignation when they heard of the kingdom being so divided. They were not moved with indignation until the point of unreasonableness was reached. We are shocked at points; we do not take the right grasp and scope, but we are shocked at detail. It is possible to be more offended by a discourtesy than by a crime.

What will Jesus Christ do now? He will lift up the occasion back to its grand level. He was never responsible for the lowering of the occasion. The moment he comes into it he lifts it up. In this instance he restored the occasion to its sublime level—hence he laid down the great law of meekness, self-crucifixion, and service in his kingdom. "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." That is the law of greatness in the Divine kingdom.

Observe that in both these instances Jesus Christ speaks of himself as a third person. Great is the mystery and great the graciousness of this Man. Of whom does he speak in the eighteenth verse—"The Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes?" Of whom does he speak in the twenty-eighth verse—"Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister?" Why does he not speak directly of himself as I? Do we not sometimes relieve our sorrows by this impersonality, by this enlargement of ourselves into representativeness, and do we not sometimes subdue what otherwise might be an ambition by speaking of ourselves as types of a divine class or purpose? He enlarges the occasion by this very use of the third person. Sometimes he said "I—Me" with a wondrous pathos, but he most frequently called himself the Son of Man when he spoke of his suffering and of his glory. He would make all occasions grand: he would never draw pity upon the mere son of the carpenter, he would never have himself, in the littleness of his actuality and personality, wept over and pitied as a mere atom. Whatever answer was made to his appeals must be made not to the local Prayer of Manasseh , not to the Nazarene, not to the individual measurable by the vision that looked upon him, but to the Son of Prayer of Manasseh ,—a term yet to be understood. Jesus Christ projects these great phrases, and the ages have to live up to them—the kingdom of heaven, the Son of Prayer of Manasseh , the Son of God—these are expressions which do not empty upon us their whole meaning at once: they are age-words, they spread themselves over the throbbing æons of all time, and have their ministry for generation after generation until the close comes.

We have spoken of murmuring men. We have just had before us two disappointed men. Now there come before us two rejoicing men. Let us hasten to the sunny side of the history, where the light falls warmly and there is room enough to be glad in. "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." Again observe what has already attracted our attention. No man ever appealed to Jesus Christ for help of this kind in the name of justice. We cannot too strongly keep that fact before the mind; we have had it again and again in this history, and because it occurs again and again, the comment must be as frequent as the repetition of the incident. The blind men never said, "We have heard that thou didst cure a leper, therefore in the name of impartiality we charge thee to heal us of our blindness." Every suppliant came to Christ along the line of mercy. So it must be to the very end. That God has pardoned one sinner for Christ"s sake is no reason why I should go to him and challenge him in the name of justice to be as impartial to me as to other men. There are circumstances in life in which we stand alone, in the solemnity of perfect individualism, every man carrying his own burden, every man stung by his own sin, every man burnt in a hell of his own, and out of the pit of his own particular distress he must vehemently call upon God in the sweet name of mercy.

Humanity asserts itself in these great cries; in pain, in want, in helplessness, in conscious desolation, the soul is lifted above mere technicality. Trust the soul in those high moods of con scious need, confronting the great Giver: when the soul speaks then, it speaks in perfect eloquence. Do not attempt to pray until you feel the need, or you will be mocked by your very supplica. tion, and your religion will be turned into scepticism and your simulating piety will become as sourness in the heart. Do not shut the eyes unless you really wish to see God, or the very darkness will become a burden upon your eyelids, and you will wonder that you should have undertaken a weariness so painful; but when consciously blind, halt, bruised, shattered, wounded, needy, and you hear that the Son of God passes by, then lift up the voice with great shouting, and vehemence and crying and tears, call for him, and you will know whether prayer is a device of the fancy, or a reality and a necessity of the life.

Perhaps the power of Jesus Christ is now exhausted, and therefore he did not give to the mother of Zebedee"s children what she asked for. Now and again he did say "No" to men, but rarely. He would rather have said "Yes" a thousand times. Can he give any more? Let me read. "So Jesus had compassion." I may pause there, for I know the rest. Once let his compassion be touched and his omnipotence goes along with it. Had he no compassion on the mother of Zebedee"s children? None. No appeal was made to pity or to love. The moment we read that Jesus had compassion, we may close the book, for we know the rest, down to its uttermost line and hue. "And he touched their eyes, and immediately their eyes received sight and they followed him." It is well that this incident occurs immediately after the conversation with the mother of Zebedee"s children. We wondered if the power had run out, we began to be surprised at this answer, as supposing that mayhap the almightiness, as we imagined it, had exhausted itself, and now he was making up by much reasoning what was lacking in sterling strength. It is not so. His "Yes" would not be so grand if he could not say "No." He is so complete to me that I follow him through his whole life, for here he says to a mother with her two children "No," and there he says to two blind men, "What do you want?" "Sight." "Then," said Jesus, "take it and see."

Now herein is the whole controversy about prayer settled, to my own satisfaction. I pray God to let me sit sometimes on the right hand and sometimes on the left of the majesty of heaven, and he says "No." Then I pray him to pity me and take me up and heal my sicknesses and supply that which is lacking, and I approach him. in the right spirit, humbly, self-renouncingly, hopefully, unable to see him because of the great hot tears that blind me, and yet sometimes seeing him the better for those waters of contrition. Then he says, "What wilt thou? Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it. What wilt thou? and thou shalt have it even to the half of my kingdom—what wilt thou?" Then seizing the occasion I tell him what my real necessity Isaiah , and he who said "No" to my ambition, gives me to overflow when I plead my necessity and urge the plea of a burning pain. Ten thousand little prayers fall down upon the altar, from which they went feebly up, because they were inspired by ambition or vitiated and tainted by some selfish purpose, whereas other prayers that went up for pardon and pity, help, light, succour—when I asked him to sit up all night because of the affliction that is in the house, to open mine eyes because I could not see one step before me, and to lead on where the way was all bog—then he gave me great Amens which repronounced and answered the prayer of my aching heart.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 20:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/matthew-20.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 5th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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