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Matthew 20; Mark 10:32-52 Listen
In this passage, we see the following in Jesus' ministry:
|1 For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
4 And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
5 Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
6 And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
7 They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
8 So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
9 And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
16 So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Jesus is closing out on a theme that emerged in Matthew 19:16-30 (see notes) regarding prominent positioning in the yet-future Kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, after Jesus gives the parable of the hired servants in this passage, he concludes with the same words as he restates his proposition of Matthew 19:30 here in Matthew 20:16 when he says, "So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."
How much is a penny/denarius?
While the KJV consistently translates the Greek word, "denarius" as "penny," one might wonder about the buying power of a denarius. We see in Matthew 20:1-16 that a denarius was a reasonable unskilled laborer's wage for one day's (12 hours) work. The denarius (silver) was the most commonly used coin in the first century. The other coins used during that period are related as follows:
In light of those two verses, it seems significant that Jesus had declared in Matthew 19:28, "That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." That, of course, is a reference to his twelve Apostles. Before the earthly ministry of Jesus, they had no reason to suspect that they would ever have a position of authority in the Messianic kingdom of the future. Contrariwise, the contemporary Jewish leaders had every reason to believe that they would be filling those positions of authority. With that in mind, verses 19:30 and 20:16 fit nicely with Jesus' message: The "last" (12 Apostles) shall rule in the Kingdom of God (Messianic kingdom) while the "first" (contemporary Jewish leaders) will come in "last."
Just in case the reality of the-last-first-and-the-first-last scenario doesn't seem quite so fair, this parable addresses the fairness of laborers contracted during different portions of the work day, yet given the same amount of wages at the conclusion of the day. While it seems fair that the one who works the most should get the greater reward, Jesus makes the point that when what has been promised is given, what more can one properly expect? His point is that people tend to spend too much time comparing their dedication and accomplishments to others rather than focusing on the reward for service promised by the Lord.
Incidentally, we get a little bit of monetary-exchange information here in this passage. Verse 2 tells us that these first laborers were willing to work all day for one penny. The Greek word for the KJV rendering of a "penny" is "denarion" - a Roman silver coin circulated during the first century. The KJV also sometimes translates "denarion" as "pennyworth" and sometimes "pence." Based upon its usage here in this parable, we can safely assume that a common laborer in the first century was willing to work for one denarion per 12-hour day.
|17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.
|32 And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him,
33 Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles:
34 And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
|31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.
32 For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:
33 And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again.
34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
First, before the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Messiah must suffer as Isaiah (Isaiah 53, see notes) prophesied and be "cut off" as Daniel had prophesied (Daniel 9:24-27, see notes). Jesus outlines his imminent crucifixion to his disciples as they prepare to go to Jerusalem for the last Passover Feast. This Passover Feast will be different; Jesus will be crucified as our Passover lamb on the very day of the Feast. These verses put the discipleship comments of the preceding verses in clear focus. If you are to follow Jesus as his disciple at this point, it will be to the death.
Notice the specifics of Jesus' prophecy here regarding his crucifixion. Not only did he prophesy that he would crucified (Greek: "stauroo" means executed on a cross), but that he would also be mocked, scourged, and spit upon. But then...resurrection in three days. The disciples couldn't say that Jesus didn't warn them. He gave them a full overview of what was in store just a few days out.
|20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.
21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.
22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.
23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.
24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
|35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire.
36 And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?
37 They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?
39 And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:
40 But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.
41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John.
42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
43 But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister:
44 And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.
45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
So, what do the disciples glean from the comments that have just been heard indicating that the end is imminent? They clearly understand it's a Kingdom-of-God-on-earth proposition, and they think it is at hand. That's why the mother of James and John intercedes on their behalf as their agent, or should I say "power broker." The fact that Mark doesn't mention that they utilized the services of their mother as their agent is incidental to the event. On more than one occasion in scripture the thoughts and intents of one are relayed by another. In this passage, their mother serves as their mouthpiece, but the desires for these leadership roles are their own. Of course she is a willing participant on their behalf; she wants a prominent place in the leadership structure for her boys. What a mom! We see in Matthew 20:22 that she made this request in their presence.
To get the full impact of her request, we must go back to the comment made by Jesus at the beginning of this discussion in Matthew 19:28 (see notes), "That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." So here's the picture: Jesus in the middle with six Apostles on his left and six Apostles on his right. Yeah...but who are the two seated on the two thrones right next to Jesus himself?
And what about the reaction of the other Apostles to this request? Matthew states their attitude like this, "they were moved with indignation against the two brethren." Mark wasn't actually there on that occasion, as was Matthew. Mark's information came from the other Apostles later on. He puts it more gently when he says of them, "they began to be much displeased with James and John." Oh, well...any way you say it, the request wasn't at all well received with the other Apostles. Jesus uses this opportunity to teach a valuable lesson, "A leader must first be a servant." Both Matthew and Mark convey the words of Jesus on this occasion as follows, "...the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." As I said, "A valid leader must first be a servant."
Allow me to put a contemporary face on Jesus' reply in this passage. One of the problems, as I see it, in churches today is a struggle to acquire leadership positions in local churches. It causes friction and injects politics into the assembly of God's people. Jesus is establishing a clear precedent here when he declares that leadership positions should follow clear demonstrations of actual personal ministry. Here's the problem: People who don't minister to other Believers as the natural process of their daily routine are not going to suddenly become those ministers when they are officially given a leadership position. In other words, in churches today, many people hold formal leadership titles within the local church who aren't really ministers at all. This creates a political environment, but not a ministry environment.
|29 And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.
30 And, behold, two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.
31 And the multitude rebuked them, because they should hold their peace: but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.
32 And Jesus stood still, and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you?
33 They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
34 So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
|46 And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.
47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
48 And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
49 And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.
50 And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.
51 And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight.
52 And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.
|35 And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging:
36 And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant.
37 And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.
38 And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
39 And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.
40 And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him,
41 Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
42 And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.
43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.
You will notice from this passage that Matthew recalls both blind men on this occasion who were healed, but Mark and Luke only talk about the apparent spokesman for the two. According to Mark's account, he was known as "blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus." So, while two were healed, Mark and Luke only report on the one who was apparently well known, probably from activities later on as a disciple. Subsequently, these two blind men follow Jesus.
Zacchaeus - the little man makes a big decision (Luke 19:1-10)
|1 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.
2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.
3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.
4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.
6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.
8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.
9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Even though Zacchaeus is a Jew (verse 9), none of the Jews like him because he is a publican (tax collector). Tax collecting, we are told, was a contract job where contractors bid on the right to collect taxes from the Roman subjects of a particular region.They paid the bid amount to the Roman government and then collected from the citizens an amount that provided a handsome return on their investment. Luke identifies Zacchaeus as "the chief" among those tax collectors. In other words, he had people who worked under him in the business of tax collecting. Apparently the Roman government did not concern itself with how much the tax collector charged the subjects under his authority. He could use the full force of Roman law to collect taxes. By his own admission, he had thus extorted money from those over whom he had won the right to collect taxes. When Jesus spots Zacchaeus in the tree, calls his name and invites himself over for dinner, Zacchaeus is overwhelmed with emotion at this acceptance by someone as prominent as Jesus. Instantly he promises restitution to those he has wronged, and Jesus subsequently identifies Zacchaeus positively when he says, "This day is salvation come to this house." Jesus obviously knew what was in his heart.
Those influential Jews are not happy. As far as they are concerned, Zacchaeus is not redeemable; he's just a sinner. Making any attempt to redeem him, in their minds, was strictly out of the question. Moreover, any association with Zacchaeus by a "righteous" man would have been considered completely unacceptable. That attitude towards Zacchaeus by those who were offended sets up the next parable with verse 10, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Zacchaeus was lost until Jesus found him.
|11 And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
12 He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.
13 And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.
14 But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.
15 And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.
16 Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds.
17 And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.
18 And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds.
19 And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities.
20 And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin:
21 For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow.
22 And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow:
23 Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury?
24 And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds.
25 (And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.)
26 For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.
27 But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
28 And when he had thus spoken, he went before, ascending up to Jerusalem.
This parable is introduced by Jesus to add perspective to the Zacchaeus incident when we read in verse 11, "And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." So, what's the linkage here? It appears to me that as these people believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he is getting ready to establish the prophesied Kingdom on earth, Jesus is calling into question the activities of the schooled Jewish leaders of that day (aka Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes). They are looking for the return of the King and the Kingdom to Israel.
Now, does this parable deal with the time between the first and second advent of Jesus, or does it deal with the time between the demise of Judah in 586 B.C. and this day when Jesus is preparing to ride into Jerusalem as the Messiah to restore Israel? Based upon the timing of this parable with the story of Zacchaeus, I believe Jesus is pointing out that the Jewish leaders of the day were making no attempt to win people to their version of righteousness. Instead, they flaunted their righteousness before the common Jew as though they themselves were members of an exclusive club. I believe this parable is an indictment against their selfish activities leading up to that day. They had taken the gift entrusted to their care (knowledge of the Word) and refused to use it to bring people to God. Not only so, they rejected Jesus who was about the business of making a positive impact on these common Jews. I'm convinced that the "wicked servant" of verse 22 is intended to be a reference to those Jewish leaders who did not invest their knowledge of God in the common Jew. Their self-righteous selfishness causes Jesus to reject them just as they had rejected Zacchaeus.
Incidentally, Jesus uses the parable again with a few minor variations to characterize those "wicked" Jews during the Tribulation who do not anticipate the return of the Messiah in Matthew 25:14-30 (see notes).
There's another interesting aspect to this parable: It appears that Jesus may have used a real-life scenario upon which he based it. When Herod the Great died (approximately 4 B.C.) he had willed his reign to his son Archelaus (aka Herod Archelaus). At a previous time, he had willed the same reign to his son Antipas (aka Herod Antipas). After Archelaus assumed authority over the territory of Judea and surrounding areas, Josephus writes that he visciously put down a rebellion of the Pharisees, killing some 3,000 of them. As a result, he gained the reputation of being a very cruel leader. Because of the dispute regarding who should have assumed Herod the Great's position after his death (Archelaus or Antipas), Archelaus made a trip to Rome to gain confirmation from Caesar. Archelaus received this confirmation and was appointed ethnarch over the region until he was deposed in 6 A.D. because of his cruel treatment of the Jewish people who cried out against him to Rome.
It is for this reason that many Bible scholars are convinced that the "certain nobleman" of verse 12 is based upon the real-life scenario of Archelaus.