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Deeper Commentary

20:1 For- The context is the end of chapter 19, about the first now being last in the eternal order of things to be established at Christ’s return. The parable is therefore about the situation amongst believers in Christ. At 19:1 I presented a chiasmus plan, showing that this parable is to be read in the context of chapters 18 and 19 with their theme of the need to accept and not reject our brethren. That theme is to be found at the very end of the parable- insofar as the harder workers are inclined to reject their brethren who have not worked so long nor so hard. Many of the parables contain their essential point right at the end, and this parable does likewise. The end stress is upon the need for the harder working brethren to accept their weaker brethren, standing as they all do before the judgment presence of the Lord Jesus. The teaching that “the last shall be first” concluded chapter 19 and it concludes this parable (20:16). I suggested under 19:30 that the point of this is that the first in a secular sense within the community of believerswill be saved only by grace and will be “the last” in the Kingdom. The phrase therefore talks of salvation by grace, and this is the theme of this parable too.

The context of the parable is Peter's comment: "What shall we have therefore?", implying that the disciples ought to get a far greater reward than the spiritually immature rich people who refused to part with their wealth but could be saved anyway by the Lord's grace. The hard workers are thereby to be equated with the disciples and all who consider themselves spiritually superior to others- they “expected that they should have received more” (20:10 NIV), just as Peter likewise expected more. The parable suggests the Lord wanted to specifically reward the lazy and weaker workers. For they are called first to receive their penny- when surely appropriacy would demand that the harder workers were first in line. And yet the parable had wider relevance to the situation in the first century- and today. The harder workers somehow felt unhappy with the basis of contract upon which the lazier workers had been taken on and 'saved' by being given the same penny as they. But the basis of salvation was the same- for the zealous and for the lazy, for Jew and Gentile. And that basis was grace. The weaker workers showed perhaps more faith in the Master's offer- because it would've seemed unreal that they would be given the same pay as the stronger, longer workers. But they believed it- which is why they went to do their little work.

The impression we are left with is that the Lord was and is utterly desperate for workers- He is willing to take on any "little ones" prepared to believe His amazing offer. And the same impression is given in the parable of the street people being urged in to the feast. All they had to do was say yes- there was an urgency to fill the house. And surely we in these last days must perceive ourselves as the 11th hour workers, then ones taken on at the very last minute. That alone adequately explains the mixed bag which comprises the body of Christ in our times, and the weak state of that body.

The kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house- AV "A man". The man, the head of the house, is clearly the Lord Jesus. And the Kingdom of God is like… Him. The grace of the Lord Jesus, His manner of being and judging amongst men, is the essence of the Kingdom both now and evermore.

Perhaps we are to connect this parable to the other parable about a householder who had a vineyard (21:33- the same Greek words are used). Putting the two parables together, God worked so hard to prepare the vineyard so that maximum spiritual fruit would be brought forth. But Israel rejected His prophets and murdered His Son- even though God was confident they would “reverence My Son”, actually they killed Him. The wonderful vineyard was therefore given out to the Gentiles, or at least, to others, whom the owner was likewise confident would tend it and bring forth fruit for Him. But this parable indicates that actually He had a major problem getting them to come work in it- meaning that much potential fruit was lost. And the parable of 21:28 says that the vineyard owner’s very own sons were not much help either- one refused to go, and only later went to the work; the other said he would go and work, but never did. God’s hopefulness for human response, and the tragedy of our paucity of response, is thus brought out yet stronger. It may be objected that the parables appear to be chronologically out of sequence if they are indeed intended to be read together. My response would be that we have in the Gospels a highly abbreviated record of the Lord’s teaching, and likely He repeated His teachings and parables many times over. Perhaps the parable of the vineyard owner was told in full [both parables put together] several times, but we have just parts of the parable recorded on two separate occasions.

Who went out- This is emphasized four times (also in :3,5,6). The Greek word is often used about the Lord Jesus ‘going out’ to men with the Gospel; it is the same word in Jn. 8:42 “I proceeded forth… from God” and Jn. 13:3 “He was come from [‘went out from’] God”. Rather than suggesting any personal pre-existence, this is simply a reference to the Lord during His ministry likewise ‘going forth’ to men and women with the Gospel, seeking to engage men in the Father’s service. The call of the Gospel, therefore, is not merely to believe the Gospel- it is a call to action, to harvest fruit, to work in the vineyard.

Early in the morning- The very same Greek phrase is used about how the Lord “went out early in the morning” to pray about the calling of the disciples (Mk. 1:35). The language is also used about the earliest disciples ‘going out’ from the tomb of the risen Lord, also “early in the morning”, to bring word to others. The message was ultimately not just passing on information, but an invitation to actually work.

The Lord Himself was noted for rising up early and praying (Mk. 1:35). The observant Jew prayed three times / day, the first and last prayers being merely the recital of the shema. Yet Jesus spent hours in those morning and evening prayers (Mk. 1:35; 6:46). Is. 50:4 prophesies of the Lord Jesus that morning by morning, God awoke His ear "to learn as a disciple". That last phrase is surely to signal the intended similarities between the Lord's path of growth, and that of all disciples. The next two verses go on to predict that because of this morning-by-morning teaching process, "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Is. 50:5,6). Thus we come to the cross, the life of cross carrying, as the end result of our morning reflections. It was from His own experience that the Lord could bid us take up our cross- His cross- each morning.

Have you ever had to make yourself wake up before dawn, without an alarm clock? You can only do it by having a deep internal, subconscious awareness that you must get up early. You don't sleep well, you keep waking up and wondering if it's time to get up. So to make oneself rise up early was easily understood as a figure expressing great mental effort. And God did this every day for centuries... This figure of rising up early is surely the basis for the Lord's parable in Mt. 20:1- where God is likened to a man going out early in the morning to hire labourers. It is through the ministry of His word that God does this- each morning that word calls us to labour for Him in His vineyard. Israel didn't notice the huge effort God puts into His word- that every day He rose early and taught them. We can also misunderstand Biblical inspiration to mean that God effortlessly inspired "the original autographs" long ago, and moved on; but actually the whole process is an ongoing and incredible outgiving of God's energy in appealing to us. And... in our mismanaged, weakly disciplined lives, is it so that we don't even make time to read His word daily? If Job could value God's word more than His regular daily food... then for us too, regular contact with His word should be part of the atmosphere of life within which we live.

To hire- Rom. 4:4 uses the same word in stressing that salvation is not our “hire” from God, it is the gift of grace. One wonders if Paul is alluding to the parable- to make the point that salvation is a gift, and yet in another sense we each receive a response for our labour. This is in that our labours now will receive eternal recognition in the form in which we will be throughout eternity.

Labourers for his vineyard- Literally, ‘toilers’. There can be no mistaking the Lord’s impression here- response to His invitation is not merely intellectual assent to the truth of Bible teachings, nor is it about painless involvement in the work of His church when, how and how far convenient to us. It’s an invitation to toil and really work in His enterprise. The Lord had earlier lamented that the harvest was more plenteous than the few labourers (Mt. 9:37,38). He had asked the disciples to pray for more labourers- and the added detail of this parable is that those labourers were still not enough, and were weak [nobody had wished to hire them] and didn’t in the end do much work. In this we see how the total conversion of others is limited by the preachers; for the Lord surely implies that there are more potential converts than there are preachers to bring them in. This passage paves the way for the giving of the great commission to us all later in Matthew- to work in the vineyard in harvest time, gathering the plentiful harvest. The “Go…” of :4 fulfils the same function. Elsewhere the Lord likens labourers to the preachers. He clearly saw a primary reason for our calling as to preach and help others to the harvest of the Kingdom. He called us in different ways to labour for and with Him in this work; not to merely passively hold various doctrinal truths in intellectual purity, or to dumbly attend church meetings of whatever sort.

20:2 And when he had agreed with the labourers- The Greek carries the idea of entering into a contract- the new covenant. We enter covenant relationship with the Father and Son when we are baptized. Again I must labour the point- that this agreement, this entry into Christ and His vineyard, is not merely a sign that we like the social club or that we assent to the teachings of a particular Christian denomination. It is a personal commitment between the individual and their Lord, to work for Him.

There is the suggestion in the parable of the labourers that the Lord makes some big concessions to human weakness. The Spirit in Paul points the contrast between realizing that salvation is by pure grace, and the wrong perception of salvation as a wage paid for works (e.g. Rom. 6). Indeed, the whole spirit of the Bible is that we should be willing to serve for nothing. The parable of the slave preparing his Master's meal after working hard for him a whole day makes this point. And yet in the parable of the labourers, Christ agrees with the labourers for a penny (note his humility, cp. God reasoning with men to accept His forgiveness, Is. 1:18); He asks them to go to work, and then He will give them the wages (cp. salvation). He even describes their salvation as "that which is right", so much did He present the Gospel to them from the selfish level they were then on. The Lord was not ignorant of the line of argument Paul would later present regarding salvation by pure grace. Surely the parable is teaching that the Lord recognizes that in our spiritual immaturity at the time of our conversion, we do need the Kingdom as a carrot, as a motivator. He treats us on this low level initially, hoping we will rise up the higher level of grace. It is possible to witness this spiritual growth in converts, and also in the community of true believers over time; initially we are motivated by the reward of the political Kingdom, but as spiritual perception increases, we grasp Paul's gospel of pure grace. The concept of working and being rewarded decreases, and the recognition of salvation by grace increases, with the resultant zeal for a truer spirituality. 

For a denarius a day- The implication is that the workers were intended to work for several days. But at the end of the first day comes the scene which is clearly intended to be reminiscent of the last judgment. The idea may be that the last day comes sooner than expected and is hastened by the Lord of the harvest.

He sent them into his vineyard- “Sent” translates apostello, meaning that all who go to work for the Lord, including the weak who work only one hour, are in fact apostles. We have a specific sense of mission, a sense of having been given a concrete and actual mission in life. That sense is rarely met in unbelievers, and the senses of mission they may have typically only last for part of their lives and become tinged with disillusion. The mission of harvesting men and women for the Kingdom never becomes like that.

20:3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others- Here is an insight into how the Lord ‘foresees’ potential workers / believers, but it is over to them if they respond to the call given. Truly God and His Son are in search of man.

Standing idle- The Greek argos definitely means ‘lazy’ and isn’t a particularly positive word to use about someone (Some young widows became argos, gossiping and interfering where they ought not because they had nothing better to do, 1 Tim. 5:13; Cretans were rumoured to be lazy, argos, Tit. 1:12). The word means literally a non-worker. These men hadn’t been hired because they were lazy. The ones the Master was so eager to use were in fact not very good workers, in fact they were non-workers. The hard workers obviously had a problem with the acceptance of these men, and their being treated on the same basis as themselves. This section thus continues the theme begun in chapter 18 and developed throughout this set of material which this parable concludes- see on 19:1. The hard workers equate with the disciples who didn’t want to accept or forgive the “little one”, the man who would not forgive others their inadequacies and ended up condemned, the big debtor who refused to forgive others their minor debt to him. This parable finishes with the harder workers rebuked and possibly even rejected- and these lazier ones accepted. The point is that the harder workers were disciplined / rejected because of their despising of their weaker brethren.

If we insist on reading argos as meaning strictly those without work, then another challenging lesson is presented. All human endeavour and achievement is a standing around doing nothing- compared to the ultimate achievement of harvesting for the Lord, of working with the Lord in His work of bringing people to eternity and to ultimate existence.

In the marketplace- The Lord’s preceding usage of this term had been in the context of the work of preaching. He had spoken of how His disciples were like children in marketplaces appealing to others to respond to His message (11:16). But in this parable, the men in the marketplace were inactive and lazy. And yet at the end of the parable, these are the ones who are more acceptable than those who work harder but reject the lazy workers. The similar usage of “the marketplace” in these two parables suggests that whilst it is the Lord’s followers who appeal to other children, their ‘fellows’ in humanity, it is also the Lord personally who works through them to make the appeal.

20:4 And to them he said: You go- This again paves the way for the “Go…” of the great preaching commission which Matthews’s Gospel concludes with.

Also into the vineyard and- The hint may be that the later workers are working for their Lord on the same basis as the harder and longer workers, even if their achievements and levels of service vastly differ.

Whatever is right I will give you- “Right” translates dikaios, a word carrying a distinct moral sense and elsewhere translated ‘righteousness’. The idea of the gift of righteousness, that which is right, is at the heart of much of Romans (Rom. 5:17 specifically speaks of “the gift of righteousness”). The penny paid for a few hours work speaks of salvation, granted as an undeserved gift, and yet also somehow ‘that which is just / right’ because of the way we are counted just because we are in Christ. There was no specific promise of a penny, and yet this was judged by the Lord as ‘what was right’. Intentionally, the storyline of the parable leads us to cry out that it is not just to give labourers the same pay, when some work far longer and harder than others- at least 12 times longer, in some cases. But it is just in the new justice taught by the Lord. The point of the paradox is that human works and achievements are so irrelevant in terms of obtaining salvation, the penny. Rather like the 100 pennies owed to the man who had been forgiven a 10,000 talent debt (18:28).

Preaching is a spiritual exercise for the benefit of the preacher. We could get the impression that the labourers were called to go out into the vineyard because the Lord felt sorry for them, standing idle with no work or livelihood- rather than because He needed them. If this was His motivation, He wouldn't have called anyone at the 11th hour, neither would he have paid them all the same wages if he was only using them for his benefit. God will call His people unto Himself without us doing a thing; and yet we have a responsibility and even a commission to take Christ to the world. The fact God will call His people to Himself anyway does not exempt us from the duty of witnessing; and the process of this witnessing is so often for our benefit.

And they went their way- We explained on 19:1 how there is a whole block of material presented in a long chiasmus, and this parable is the closing part of the section which began at the start of chapter 18. It’s significant therefore that aperchomai, translated here to ‘go [a] way’, recurs twice in the section. The man with the colossal debt ‘went his way’ and imprisoned his slightly indebted brother (18:30), and the rich young man ‘went away’ sorrowful (19:22). In each case, men ‘went their way’ after having been confronted by extreme grace. The rich man in that despite not wanting to part with his wealth as requested, he could still be saved by grace; the man with the colossal debt who had it frankly forgiven. They ‘went their way’ into obscurity, unable to accept the grace offered. These weak, lazy labourers went their way to harvest at least a few for Christ, believing and clinging on to the Lord’s desire to use even them despite their inadequacy.

20:5 Again He went out- The very same words used of how the Lord ‘again went out’ to teach the Gospel (Mk. 2:13).

About the sixth and ninth hour and did likewisePeri (“about”) used in relation to time doesn’t have to mean ‘roughly at’ that time, it could mean that throughout the sixth, ninth and eleventh hours, the Lord searched for workers. In this case we see an indication of His urgent need for workers. The harvest really is there to be brought in, all complaints that ‘nobody is interested’ are simply a reflection of a serious mismatch between the potential harvest and the approach being taken to harvesting it. Typically great effort is expended on trying to get people to sign up to a denominational position and be regular attenders at meetings- and if that fails, the feeling is that evangelism has failed because the harvest is simply not there, ‘nobody is interested’. But the clear impression from this parable and others is that the harvest is indeed there- the problem in harvesting it is with the labourers. The work of harvesting isn’t the same as doing a public relations exercise for a denomination. We may or may not succeed in getting folks to sign up for our denomination or fellowship; but the work of harvesting men and women into Christ isn’t necessarily the same thing as that. And that work is guaranteed of success.

20:6- see on 22:8.
And about the eleventh hour- The servant goes at the 11th hour and hires the men who others had refused, presumably because they didn't look strong enough for the work. And they get paid the very same wage as those who had worked all day. This element of unreality serves to highlight the (humanly) irrational zeal of the Lord for the spread of the Gospel in the last days before His return. He will take on anyone who is willing to work, no matter how feebly, no matter for how short a time; the fact they are standing there ready and willing to do their little bit is what is important to Him. A man does not usually go out between 4 and 5 p.m. looking for more labourers, with sunset approaching. He must have had an unusually great need for workers, racing against time to get the harvest in. And this is the very urgency of the Gospel, and the passion of the Lord's desire to get the harvest reaped. God could reap the harvest of the earth, requiring not help from man. But He has chosen to work through men in the preaching of the Gospel, and therefore the number of workers and their zeal reflects the amount of harvest of souls that can be reaped. The eternal destiny of others is therefore seen to depend on our extent of labour in preaching. It’s also apparent that the amount of harvest was unreally huge- hence the unusual running backwards and forwards to get more workers. One expects the manager to know the size of the harvest and hire the right number of labourers at the start of the day. But in this parable, he doesn’t. The awesome size of the potential harvest out there in this world means that never should we conclude that ‘nobody’s interested’. There is a huge harvest out there. And in passing, it can be noted that grapes have to be harvested at just the right time. If they’re left even a day too long on the vine, the sugar content becomes too high and they are no use. We can perhaps infer that the parable describes a scene on a Friday, with the Sabbath coming on when nobody can work- and yet it is just the right day for reaping the harvest. This makes the obvious connection in our minds- that just before the Sabbath day of the Millennium, in the last days, there is an abnormally huge harvest to be reaped. And this would connect with other Biblical teaching about a great appeal being made to all nations, just prior to the Lord’s return. The parable also yields the lesson that those men would not normally work for one hour. We are to imagine those men with families at home who needed feeding. No pay that day, no food. But they were willing to do at least something. And their generous Lord simply pitied their poverty, so he gave them a day's wage- even to the 11th hour workers. And this is the Lord who has graciously hired us. Likewise, no rich King who finds that the wedding of his son will be poorly attended would go out and invite beggars. The element of unreality is that he so wants every place filled. No human King, nor his son, would want riff raff at the wedding, just because his own class of people turned down the invitations. But the King of Heaven is unlike any human king. He wants others to share in the joy of His Son, and absolutely nobody is too low to share; and moreover, He has a compelling desire to fill those places. The implication is that the net is being spread wider and more compulsively as the days shorten unto the supper.

He went out and found others- This parable forms the closing section of the block of material which began at the beginning of chapter 18 and which is arranged in a chiasmus [see 19:1]. The Lord’s ‘finding’ of men to do His work connects with the ‘finding’ of the lost sheep in 18:13. These men whom the Lord ‘finds’ are the lost sheep. The parallel is thus between the lost sheep, the child brought into the midst, the man who owes 100 pence, the brother who sins against us… and now, the lazy or weak labourers who are saved by grace. The point of the section is that they must be accepted- and the parable speaks of how those who have worked harder and longer will have a tendency not to do so. And that tendency may cost them their own salvation.

Standing, and he said to them: Why do you stand here idle all the day?- The implication is almost that they should’ve gone to work without waiting to be invited. They should’ve been motivated by the tragedy of an amazing harvest wasting. Or perhaps the question was more rhetorical. Why were they idle? Why had nobody hired them? Because they were weak, lazy, had bad reputations, been fired by other employers, were too old to work effectively… And the Lord wanted them to be fully aware of their inadequacies before He sent them to do His harvesting work. The same is seen in how the Lord made the disciples perceive their own blindness and lack of faith- and thengave them the great commission. This is indeed the ultimate qualification for preaching work. And that is taught by the Lord’s hand in life, not by Bible colleges or preparatory programs.

The parable of the labourers indicates that the Lord's desire for response to the Gospel will increase as the coming of the Kingdom advances. Apparently He increasingly is the Jesus who understands human weakness. There is an element of unreality in the parable; the servant goes at the 11th hour and hires the men who others had refused, presumably because they didn't look strong enough for the work. This element of unreality serves to highlight the (humanly) irrational zeal of the Lord for the spread of the Gospel in the last days before His return. The parable of the marriage supper explains why this is. We need to enter into the sense of urgency and tragedy which there was; the marriage of the King's son was going to be delayed because the guests didn't want to come. The shame, even anger, of the King (cp. God) and the bridegroom (cp. Christ) need to be imagined; and this really is the feeling of the Father and Son whenever the Gospel is rejected. And time and again it happens, from Sunday School kids to those hundreds who every year complete Bible study courses and turn away from the call. 

20:7 They said to him: Because no one has hired us- They answered honestly, recognizing that in the urgency of harvest, nobody had hired them. Their answer implied a recognition of their weakness- through old age, mental issues, laziness, bad reputation, physical weakness or disability. But it is twice emphasized that they “stood” in the marketplace and did not sit there, as is common in marketplaces in the Middle Eastern harvest time sun. Their saving feature was that they were willing to work, and they recognized their weakness; and they believed that they would be given an appropriate reward by this strangely gracious employer. This is so important, and forms almost the only precondition which the Lord requires to work with men. The Lord surely knew why they had not been hired. They had been there all day- so He had surely seen them when He had gone out looking for workers earlier that day. His question to them was therefore rhetorical. He wanted to elicit from them a recognition of their weakness. We also sense that as He would have noticed them earlier in the day, He as it were was lowering the bar because He was as it were driven to do this by the chronic lack of labourers and the unexpectedly huge harvest. The same lowering of the bar just before the last day, the final end of the harvest, is seen in the parable of the street people being urged in to attend the majestic supper.

The Lord had earlier spoken of the disciples as labourers in the work of the Gospel, who were worthy of their hire (Lk. 10:7; Jn. 4:36 s.w.). The connection with that teaching is in that the Lord was inviting the disciples to see themselves as those who had been first hired, and was warning them that the potential harvest was so great that He was taking on other workers whom they would be tempted to despise. This is exactly the theme of the entire block of material which began with their rejection and despising of the little ones at the start of chapter 18.

He said to them: You go also into the vineyard- AV adds: "And whatever is right I will give you". He imputes righteousness to His weak workers, so that payment for a day’s work becomes that which is “right” for those who have only worked one hour.

20:8 And when evening came- The Lord’s coming is likened to the dawn in Mal. 4, here to the sunset. The day of opportunity for service ends, and yet in another sense the sun arises heralding the eternal day of God’s Kingdom.

The owner of the vineyard said to his steward- AV "The Lord". The Lord of the vineyard is presumably God, and His “steward”, the duty manager, is the Lord Jesus.

Call the labourersKaleo is used both of the calling of men and women to the Gospel in this life, and also of the final call to judgment. In responding to the call, we are actually embarking upon a journey to judgment, and therefore as the Lord elsewhere explains, it is absurd if we uphold differences with our brother on that journey. We are on our way to judgment- that should humble us and impart a sense of urgency to every moment of this journey. Mt. 22:3 speaks of how the Lord’s Angelic servants “call them that were bidden”. But “call” and “bidden” both translate kaleo. The called ones are further called- to judgment.

And pay them their wages- At the judgment, the preacher receives wages for what he did (Jn. 4:36), the labourers receive hire (s.w. wages) for their work in the vineyard (Mt. 20:8; 1 Cor. 3:8). There is a reward (s.w. wages) for those who rise to the level of loving the totally unresponsive (Mt. 5:46), or preaching in situations quite against their natural inclination (1 Cor. 9:18). Salvation itself isn't given on this basis of works; but the judgment is of works in order to teach us self-knowledge. And this is why there will be a 'going through' of our deeds. In this life, we see ourselves in a dark mirror; but only when the Lord appears will we clearly see ourselves face to face. This coming to true self-knowledge will only be possible through the judgment process. There is indeed a ‘wage’ paid for Gospel work; each man shall receive “his own reward [s.w. “hire”] according to his labour”- but that “reward” is the fact that a man’s work ‘abides’ through the fire of the final judgment (1 Cor. 3:8,14). So whilst the hire / reward / wage is on one hand salvation, it will also be unique to each of us and directly in proportion to the success of our work with others. If they enter the Kingdom, then that will be an aspect of our eternal reward, and thus Paul can say that his eternal “crown of rejoicing” is the likes of his Thessalonian converts standing approved at the final judgment (1 Thess. 2:19). So often, allegiance to a particular denominational way of thinking hinders believers from this work. They may read these words and find the idea somewhat strange, because they feel they have never brought anyone into the group they belong to. But the group we ultimately belong to is the body of Christ. The commission to take the Gospel to the world and baptize them is given to each of us. And so we do well to ask ourselves the question: ‘How many times have I ever asked someone if they want to be baptized, offered to baptize them, and baptized someone?’. Fear of eldership displeasure and rejection from what is little more than a church social club has hamstrung so much such witness.

Beginning from the last to the first- The giving of the payment begins at the last, which is an element of unreality in the story. The message may be that this was in order to teach the longer and harder working labourers that the wage really was a penny a day for each worker. The purpose of the judgment process will be for our benefit, and one of the hardest lessons for Christ’s people is to accept that others who worked less than us are really also saved to the same extent and by the same grace as we are.

20:9- see on 25:23.
And when they who were hired about the eleventh hour came- I mentioned earlier that peri with time clauses can mean ‘throughout’. The payment was at the twelfth hour; some had been hired at various points throughout the eleventh hour, meaning that they had worked far less than an hour. It outrages all human works-based justice to think that they received the same as those who slogged twelve hours. But this is to affront our sense of justification by works, and to demonstrate to us that salvation cannot be on the basis of works but rather on the basis of the contract / covenant which all by grace have entered into. And the parable has an even more demanding twist in its end stress, whereby those who considered this was unreasonable and felt they should be given more for their superior work are in fact rejected for thinking that. If indeed “Go your way” means they are fired from the Master’s service.

They each received a denarius- No employer really pays all workers the same amount as the 11th hour worker; no creditor would really cancel debts simply because the debtors can’t afford to pay, and take nothing at all from them; no father would really give preferential treatment to a wayward son over a son who had never disobeyed him. But the point is, God acts in the very opposite way to how we do or would do. His grace to sinners makes no human sense. And He asks us through these parables of His Son to walk out against the wind and follow His example in our treatment of sinners. Our own natural sense cries out that he who works most should have the most pay; but the unreality of the parable teaches us that this principle is set aside in the way God deals with us. Any gift from the Father and Son is by grace alone. The elements of unreality in the parables often bring out the extent of God’s grace. The fruit farmer [=God] asked His worker [= the Lord Jesus] to cut down a barren fig tree. But this worker had such fondness for the tree, he was so unusually concerned for it, that he pleaded that it be given some more time. This reflected the Lord’s love for Israel, a love beyond all reason. Likewise, which wealthy person would ever arrange a banquet and invite the very dregs of society to it? Here is the Father’s amazing grace. Sometimes we have to fill in the details [another feature of the Lord’s amazing stories] in order to perceive this grace. The younger son, for example, demanded his share of the inheritance; and thus he lost his name, forfeited any claim to family membership, and openly showed that he did not wish to be part of his father’s family. And yet he was received back with such grace and longing by the Father.

This addition of ana [“every man”] is to underline that they each, every one individually, received their pay. The sense would be conveyed quite adequately without the addition of this word, but the Lord wished to remind us of how each of us will personally meet the Lord at judgment day, and we will behold each of those whom we considered the little ones, inferior workers or believers to ourselves, receiving their rewards. The public aspect to the judgment process is several times brought out- e.g. the rejected will walk naked and others will see their shame (Rev. 16:15).

20:10 And when the first came, they supposed- NIV “they expected”. The connection is clearly to Peter’s expectation that he and the disciples who had forsaken what they had should be rewarded more than those who had not done so (19:27). We are led by the story line to sympathize with their position- our sense of human justice cries out against such an approach, whereby the harder workers were rewarded the same as the slacker and shorter workers. But that outcry is intended. Because the point is, that we are the colossally indebted man, saved by grace; the 11th hour workers who were too weak and lazy to do much for their Lord. This parable forms an appropriate conclusion to the material which began at the start of chapter 18. The despising of the little ones by us is simply because we have failed to perceive that we are the 10,000 talent hopeless debtor, we are the man… we are the weak workers, etc. 

Yet nomizo, “supposed”, is the verb of the noun nomos, the law. They believed it was their legal right to receive more than the later workers. But they had “agreed” in contract for a penny a day (:2).  The law was not at all on their side. They only came to this new and very twisted view of their rights by observing the Lord’s grace to the weaker, shorter workers. Their eye or outlook became evil because of the Lord’s goodness. We too can come to assume that salvation is our right, failing to maintain any sense of wonder at God’s grace to us.

That they would receive more, but likewise each received a denarius- This again is particularly appropriate to Peter, who had to be forced to consider carefully whether he did in fact love the Lord “more” [s.w.] than others (Jn. 21:15).

20:11 And when they received it, they grumbled at the master of the house, saying- The word is repeatedly used concerning Israel’s murmuring against Christ (Lk. 5:30; Jn. 6:41,43; 7:32; 1 Cor. 10:10). These who murmured against Christ’s grace at the last day were therefore, we can conclude, under the influence of Jewish legalism and a sense of superiority to others. The tension is between them murmuring at the very moment in which they “received it”.

Those hired into the vineyard first "supposed (on judgment day) that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house... but he answered one of them (what's the significance of this?) and said, Friend (a description of the faithful, Jn. 15:15; James 2:23), I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is... I will give unto this last, even as unto thee" (Mt. 20:10-15). If the penny represents salvation, the harder workers only started questioning once they saw, to their amazement, the weaker and shorter workers receiving a penny. They received the promised reward of salvation, but couldn't understand the principles on which the Lord rewarded the weaker servants. If the hard working faithful will have a problem with this even at the judgment, how much more now? 

20:12 These last- The Lord answers the question “Are there few that be saved?” by insisting that we personally strive to enter by the narrow door (Lk. 13:23,24). This was the same message the Lord had taught Peter through the parable of the 1st hour labourer getting distracted by the reward of the 11th hour one. He had that tendency to look on the faults of others (Mt. 18:21), to compare himself with others (Mt. 19:21 cp. 27; 26:33). John’s Gospel ends with Peter yet again being distracted by the possible spiritual destiny of his brother John- ‘What about this man?’ was answered by the Lord with an appeal to Peter to not worry about that but instead “You- follow Me”. And so, so many tragic times we do the same. We are distracted from the quintessence of our lives, the following, to death, of the Lord, by our jealousy of others and our desire to enter into their spirituality rather than personally following. We should rather be like the weak old labourers in the parable who walk away from judgment day clutching their ‘penny’ [of salvation], thinking "I really shouldn't have this. I didn't work for a day, and this… this coin… this is a day's pay”. But we will be there. You and me. For all our doubts and fears, our chronic lack of self worth, for all the inward, unspoken struggles to believe and understand, that nobody knows nor even notices. We will be there. This is grace, and this will be grace. Truly there is all joy and peace through believing these things, “that ye may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
Paul was ever aware of his own proneness to failure. He saw himself as tempted to be like the man in the parable who thought he should have more, because he had laboured more abundantly than the others (Mt. 20:12 Gk. = 2 Cor. 11:25).

Have spent- Clearly the harder workers believed that there was to be a direct connection between work and reward. And the purpose of the story is to debunk that idea.

Only one hour- The labourers had been brought into the vineyard at various times. It was the scandal of the 11th hour labourers which so stuck in the gut of the original workers. And those 11th hour workers, at least in chronological terms, are us- called in these very last days. We therefore can see ourselves as the recipients of maximum grace- for we are hardly the strongest or most functional of the generations of Christ's servants, more focused as we are on internal grievances than on the massive work of getting the amazing harvest in.

But you have made them- This is precisely the same word used earlier in the verse to speak of how the weaker workers had 'worked' or, literally, 'made' only one hour. By accident, almost, these complaining labourers had stumbled upon the salvation by grace and imputed righteousness which Paul spells out in Romans in so many words. The strangely gracious Lord of the harvest had 'worked them' as worthy of a day's pay; He had imputed to them the work of a whole day when they had only done a fraction of that. And still the workers didn’t get it. The story ends with them still in confusion.Some will be in the Kingdom who have big questions about the justice of God (Mt. 20:12,13 "friend"); the wise virgins, apparently selfishly, won't give any oil to the others; some will sit in the Kingdom in "shame" because they thought they were greater than other brethren (Lk. 14:9- cp. the elder brother?); some remonstrate that a highly rewarded brother already has ten pounds, and surely doesn't need any more exaltation (Lk. 19:25).

Equal to us- It was on this basis that they were all made "equal" before the final judgment. The basis of their unity, therefore, should have been- and indeed is- the fact that our salvation is by imputed righteousness. Peter surely learnt the lesson of all this when he spoke of how to the Gentiles had been given by God the 'like' [s.w. "equal"] gift which had been given to "us", the Jewish disciples (Acts 11:17). In this sense the dimensions of the new Jerusalem are "equal" (Rev. 21:16 s.w.). 

Who have borne the burden of the day- The same words used for carrying the burden of the cross and of the sins and failures of others (Lk. 14:27; Jn. 19:17; Rom. 15:1). It can be no accident that here in Mt. 20 the Lord goes on to speak of His cross and the need to participate in that death through carrying the cross. Whenever we behold the cross, surely we are left with the deep impression that 'I would not have gone through with this'. But that is the burden we are to carry, and no amount of other works or attainment of standards can compensate for that. The disciples thought they could so easily carry that cross (20:22 "we are able"), just as these workers were sure that they had borne the required burden and should be rewarded for it. But in the light of the cross and of the demand implicit within it to likewise suffer in the salvation of little ones, the hard workers had carried nothing.  Their salvation too was to be on the basis of total grace. 

And the scorching heat- This is the language of the day of judgment (2 Pet. 3:10,12; James 1:11). These hard workers had been through nothing- they had not been through the day of judgment, at which acceptance will be proportionate to our acceptance of other little ones.

20:13 And he answered and said to one of them- The personal nature of the judgment is emphasized, as we saw in :9,10 where it is twice stated that the payment was given to each individual.

Friend- This term could imply that for all their blindness and unfounded sense of superiority over their brethren, these workers were still acceptable with the Lord. But the same word is used in 22:12 for the man who is condemned because he thinks his own clothing is good enough for the wedding, and will not take the garment of righteousness offered him; and it is also used by the Lord concerning Judas the betrayer (26:50). These more negative associations of “friend” must be considered together with the possibility that “Go your way…” means effectively ‘You’re fired!’. The idea that we are superior to our brethren because we achieved more than them is so obnoxious to the Lord that it may be the basis for the condemnation of such people. That is the undoubted implication and possibility. The structure of the parable leaves it somewhat unclear, because indeed the issue is unclear. The Lord may forgive the unforgiving, show grace to the ungracious- and save them. This would indeed be in line with His grace. But on the other hand, we are to understand that such arrogant and exclusive attitudes warrant condemnation before Him at the last day.

Note that before the Lord of the harvest, having received the 'penny' of salvation and Divine nature, those who thought they had worked hardest complained that those they thought had done less, were still getting a penny. They were rebuked, but they still had their penny (cp. salvation; Mt. 20:11). The subsequent comment that the first shall be last might imply that they will be in the Kingdom, but in the least place. Robert Roberts wrote that he was certain that the only response of the saints once they are given Divine nature will be to break down in tears. And I agree with him. And the passion of Jesus may mean He does likewise. Being Divine doesn't mean you don't cry- in whatever way Divine beings cry. Which is why, in some ways, there are tears in Heaven as we pass through our vales of tears down here. Some will be in the Kingdom who have big questions about the justice of God even then (Mt. 20:12,13 "friend"); some will sit in the Kingdom in "shame" because they thought they were greater than other brethren (Lk. 14:9- cp. the elder brother?)- i.e. self-imposed shame and embarrassment; some remonstrate that a highly rewarded brother already has ten pounds, and surely doesn't need any more exaltation (Lk. 19:25). This all suggests that even after our acceptance at the judgment, we may be more 'human' (or whatever word I should use) than we may now imagine. More emotional, more seeking towards understanding, with a greater potential for eternal growth, than perhaps we have thought. Divine nature doesn't mean being passionless. Whichever hymn writer called the Kingdom "passionless renown" just, quite frankly, got it wrong [or was trying too hard to rhyme his words]. Because God is passionate; and we will share His nature.

There is even here the possible implication that some who will be accepted by the Lord who even at their acceptance at the judgment have wrong attitudes towards their brethren. Thus before the Lord of the harvest, those who thought they had worked hardest complained that those they thought had done less, were still getting a penny. They were rebuked, but they still had their penny (cp. salvation; Mt. 20:11). The subsequent comment that the first shall be last might imply that they will be in the Kingdom, but in the least place. Likewise the brother who takes the highest place in the ecclesia will be made with shame to take the lower place (Lk. 14:9). Or the bitter elder brother, angry at the Father's gracious enthusiasm for the worthless brother, is addressed by the Father (God) in language which is relevant to the Lord Jesus: "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine" (Lk. 15:30). These sentiments are elsewhere expressed about the Lord Jesus. Is the implication that bitter elder brother is still in Christ and accepted in Him, even though his attitude to his brother is not what it should be? The least in the Kingdom will be those who break commandments and teach men so (Mt. 5:19); but the least in the Kingdom will be counted greater than John the Baptist was in this life (Mt. 11:11). The simple message is that there will be some in the Kingdom who simply weren't very obedient in this their day of probation. Admittedly, these details are capable of other interpretations. But bear these points in mind, especially if you ever struggle with the apparent harshness of some Christians you may meet.

I do you no wrong- The grace shown by one to another can be perceived by a third party as a personal attack upon that third party. But that is just an illusion, a game of the mind- and yet it explains why there is so much anger with the Lord because of His grace to others. The hard workers felt the Lord was personally doing them wrong- when instead He was giving them exactly what He had promised and what they had hoped for.

Did you not agree with me for a denarius?- The question arises as to what exactly the Lord was supposed to give these men beyond a penny. Likewise, the Lord can give us no more than salvation, the penny. The fact He may give it to those we consider far beneath our level, doesn’t mean that somehow He must give us more than salvation.

20:14 Take- This is a slightly strange way of talking about a penny which the Lord had given to the worker. It might imply that the worker had thrown it down on the ground in protest. Or the sense of ‘take away’ which is in the Greek may suggest ‘Take it and go away from Me’, lending weight to the possibility that the subsequent “Go your way” is effectively a firing of the man from the Master’s service- a hint that the penalty for superior thinking concerning little ones is in fact rejection by the Lord.

That which is yours- Salvation will be intensely personal, it will be as it were ‘our very own’. Having been faithful in what the Lord entrusted to us in this life, we will receive at the day of judgment “that which is your [very] own” (Lk. 16:12).

And go your way- This could be interpreted as meaning ‘You’re fired’. Harry Whittaker was a great fan of this view in his Studies in the Gospels. Perhaps the hard working labourers were sent packing by the Lord because of their complaint at the others getting the same payment for what they considered to be inferior work to theirs. If the parable is meant to be read in this way, then it seems so sad that those hard working men (cp. brethren) were almost saved, but for their attitude to their brethren.

It is my wish to give to this last even as I gave to you- Here and in :15, thelo, “I will”, doesn’t mean ‘I want’ but rather to choose, to be disposed to. The idea connects with the conclusion in :16, that the saved are those who are “chosen”. These ideas of a sovereign undeserved gift, the will of God, Divine choice and election [elektos is the word used for “chosen” in :16] are all found again in Romans, where Paul makes the same point more pointedly and directly: Salvation cannot be by works, but by grace. And the element of election and predestination within the final algorithm of human salvation is proof enough that works are not and cannot be of paramount importance.

20:15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own money? Or is- This is another connection with the earlier part of the chiasmus which began in chapter 18. In this case, to the question of 19:3 as to whether it is “lawful” [s.w.] to divorce a wife for any reason. The Lord’s answer had lifted the question to higher levels, by arguing that the spirit of the law was to forgive marital failure without limit. He is expanding upon that thought here, by teaching that the spirit of ‘law’ is to accept the weak believer, the little one, the sinner, with no regard to their works but rather upon the basis of their having entered and ‘agreed’ to the covenant of grace. He imputes righteousness to His weak workers, so that payment for a day’s work becomes that which is “right” for those who have only worked one hour.

Your eye evil, because I am good- A figure for mean spiritedness (Dt. 15:9; Prov. 23:6). They should have been generous spirited, and the connection is clearly to the colossal debtor in the parable at the end of chapter 19, who should've been generous to his indebted brother. God's grace to us, the honour of having served Him so long, should mean that we are happy at the inclusion of those who appear far less than us, which is the context of this entire section of material which began in chapter 18. And the Lord’s words here are so tragically and frequently true to observation in spiritual life. The grace shown by some towards others who are clearly morally or doctrinally weaker provokes untold anger towards those who are showing the grace. This explains why otherwise nice natured believers can shake in rage, use expletives and behave with unnatural anger towards those whom they perceive as opening the circle, weakening the boundaries behind which they have hidden, by welcoming in the children, the little ones who are apparently so far beneath other believers in faith and behaviour. Their eye clouds over as evil as they behold the grace of others. There are Biblical examples of this, but the hatred towards the Lord Jesus Himself, hatred unto the death of the cross, is proof enough. And the same path was followed by men of grace such as Paul and Peter.

"Is your eye evil, because I am good" was quarried from Jonah 4:2-4, where Jonah is also asked a similar question after his bitterness that God had allowed Nineveh to repent. We must be aware that such self-righteousness and uncomfortableness at the repentance of others is a feature of our very essential nature. The Lord Jesus overcame this aspect of His nature superbly. 

The pureness of the grace of the Lord Jesus is hard to plumb. He knew that the extent of His grace would cause others to stumble. The element of unreality in the parable of the labourers shows this. He hired the labourers no-one else wanted, the old and weak workers, some of them only for an hour, and still gave them a day's pay. They must have walked away from the pay table with their heads spinning, scarcely daring to believe what they held in their hands- a matchless picture of the response of the faithful after learning of their acceptance at the day of judgment. But the outlook of those who felt their salvation (the penny) was less by grace than the others became bitter: "Is your eye evil, because I am good?". In saying this, the Lord was referring back to Dt. 15:9, which warned Israel not to have an evil eye towards their poverty stricken brother (cp. the unwanted labourer) who asked for a loan near the time of the year of release, when all debts were cancelled. In the year of release, Israel were "to remit every private debt... and notdemand it of thy brother" (Dt. 15:2 LXX). This is behind Mt. 18:28, where Christ speaks of the man who demands repayment from his brother. The Lord is implying: You should live in the spirit of the year of release all the time, giving without expecting. Lk. 6:35 has the year of release in mind, in the idea of lending without expecting anything back. This only happened in the year of release. "Is thine eye evil, because I am good" is therefore saying that the Lord's grace towards the poverty-stricken labourer had provoked an "evil eye" in the others, they somehow felt that they were having to give to him, that they were standing to lose by his acceptance. Yet, as the Lord implies, this is a nonsense attitude. Of course we don't stand to lose anything by another's acceptance! And it's possible to reason that it was those 11th hour labourers  represent the accepted, whilst the complainers are rejected ("Go thy way" has been read by some as meaning they were fired whilst the others were taken on permanently). But with what superb accuracy does He get right inside the future mentality of many in His ecclesia! How very true this parable has been time and again in the history of our community. Discussion of and practice of the idea of grace has provoked untold bitterness amongst those who live less by grace.  

20:16 So the last shall be first and the first last- The entire section beginning in chapter 18 has taught that those who refuse to forgive and accept the spiritually weak- will in fact be condemned. And yet the section also speaks of the possibility that they will be saved, just as the rich are told to sell what they have and give to the poor, if they “will be perfect”- otherwise they will be condemned. But the Lord says that salvation even in that case is “possible” with God, by grace. Therefore the section concludes on the same note- on one hand hinting at the condemnation of the hardest workers because of their despising of their weaker brethren, whilst on another hand suggesting that they shall be in the Kingdom, although “last” in the Kingdom, due to their superior attitudes.

For many are called but few chosen- AV. This is the conclusion to the large chiasmus of material which began at 18:1 (see on 19:1). The conclusion is that salvation is partly on the basis of predestination- some are simply chosen, others aren't. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. Paul speaks of choosing and predestination in the context of seeking to persuade believers that salvation is by the gift of grace and not according to works- and he could well have been prompted to that thinking by the Lord's usage of 'choosing' here. God uses language in a relative sense in order to emphasize something. Thus we read of many being saved (Gen. 22:17), yet in another sense few will be saved (Mt. 7:14; 20:16; Lk. 13:23). Relative to the wonder of salvation, many will be saved; but numerically, the figure will be small, from the perspective of this world. See on 11:30; 25:19.

20:17 And as Jesus was going up- This could refer to the uphill journey, but ‘going up’ was a technical term used for going up to Jerusalem, particularly to keep a feast- Passover, in this case. Mark adds: “And Jesus went before them, and they were amazed; and as they followed they were sore afraid”. 

To Jerusalem- From Jericho, 19:15. Hence they went “up”, uphill to Jerusalem. These small details all support the position that the Gospels were written by eye witnesses and were not created many years later by people who were not present. They were going the opposite direction of man in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. We may be able to infer that the Lord intended us to read that man as one who was not going in the way of the cross, who was going away from Jerusalem rather than towards it- and who was still saved by the grace of the Samaritan / Jesus. 

He took the twelve disciples aside- The implication is that there were others travelling with them, and the Lord wished to explain the reality of the cross to the disciples alone.

And on the way he said to them- It could be inferred that “the way” is the way to Jerusalem and the cross; the disciples were following Jesus in that “way” without appreciating what it really involved and where it ultimately led, and that can be true for us too.

20:18 Listen, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be- This was stating the obvious, but He wanted them to perceive their part in the journey to the cross which He was making; for His path to death and resurrection was to be theirs, as it is ours too.

Delivered to the chief priests and scribes; and they shall- The Greek means literally ‘to hand over’; the idea of betrayal was maybe implicit, but not as explicit as in the English word ‘betrayed’. It’s the same Greek word as in :19, translated “deliver”. The word is very common on the lips of the Lord, as if He saw the moment of ‘handing over’ as the quintessence of all His sufferings- the hand over from God’s Providential protection to the powers of darkness.

Condemn Him to death- Exactly fulfilled, using the same Greek words, in Mk. 14:64. 

20:19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify; and the third day he shall be raised up- The Lord's predictions of His sufferings are detailed. The question arises as to whether this knowledge was beamed into Him by Divine revelation, or whether He worked it all out from Old Testament anticipations and prophecies of Messiah's sufferings. All the details could indeed have been understood from the Old Testament.

20:20 Then…- So often, the Lord’s predictions of the cross are responded to in most unspiritual ways, as if the message really failed to penetrate. As with us today, people turned off at the message of the Lord’s death. Whenever this happens, we must enquire as to why we turn off; for it surely has a psychological basis. Why does out attention wander so easily when reading or hearing discussed the crucifixion passages? The psychological, subconscious reason may well be that we realize that whatever is true for the Lord is to be true for us; His death there is the pattern for our death to self today. And we would far rather not be reminded of that.

The mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling before him and asking a certain thing of him- The mother of James and John. We can identify her with Salome, who was likely the mother of Mary the Lord's mother (see Jn. 19:25; Mk. 15:40; Mt. 27:56). They were His cousins, and in the culture of nepotism in which they lived, it would be normal for them to have some honourable place in the future Government of their relative. But the Lord's answer was that such fleshly connections were irrelevant; there was no short cut around drinking His cup and suffering with Him. So often, having predicted His cross, the disciples become obsessed with petty issues; just as we can, right before His cross.

20:21 And he said to her: What do you desire?- These are the very words the Lord goes on to use to the blind men in :32 as He left Jericho, and to the blind man He met as He approached Jericho (Lk. 18:41). The similarity in the stories of the blind men He spoke to is surely for the same reason as His repetition of "What do you want?" both to them and to Salome and again to her sons. It's all to build up the impression that He is asking people to focus upon what their dominant desire really is. And such an approach is not unknown in depth psychology today. The Lord uses the same word for "want" in asking the crippled man if he 'wanted' to be made whole (Jn. 5:6). Of course he did, and the Lord knew it. So His question was to elicit in the man a sense of what his dominant desire really was. The Lord raised him up, and went on to comment that as the Father raises up people, so His Son enlivens whom He wants [s.w.- Jn. 5:21]. The 'want' of the man and the 'want' of God's Son coincided, just as can happen for us all- if our dominant desires are His. Therefore later in Jn. 15:7 the Lord almost comments on the incident with Salome by saying that if His words abide in us, then we shall ask what we wish [s.w. "want"] and it shall be done [s.w. 'do']. There was no blank cheque promise, as Salome and her sons had wrongly implied. It was often His style to focus people on what they were asking for, encouraging them to verbalize and thus define their deepest desires. This is why He made as if He would go further on the way to Emmaus, why He appeared to be sleeping during the storm, and in another storm appeared to intend to walk past the diciples (Mk. 6:48). All this was to elicit from His people an awareness of their need for Him. He works the same today, through providential circumstance in our lives, to make us ask ourselves what we really and essentially want. He has just spoken in detail of His sufferings, and so His question was rhetorical. 'If I am going to do all that for you- what else could you ask for?'. The wonder of salvation for us as sinners is such that we should see all our other requests in that context. 

Mk. 10:37 makes it clear that the brothers themselves went on to request this, having tried to manipulate the Lord through the use of a female. Here is a classic example of where reading the entire Bible gives us a wider and fuller perspective. But a caveat needs to be sounded about such intertextuality, as it is called- the practice of interpreting a text in the light of other Bible texts. Of course, to get the wider and truer picture, this is a quite necessary and legitimate way of studying the Bible. But remember that the vast majority of believers over history have been illiterate. They heard the Gospels read to them. The text as it stands spoke to them- there are no Divinely inspired footnotes which signpost us to one of the parallel Gospels for the fuller picture. The easy use of computer-assisted analysis of the Biblical text is unique to our age, but one downside of this is that it can too easily be assumed that such endless chasing of connections with other Scripture is in fact how the text was originally designed to be read. It clearly was not. The fact the text of the entire Bible stands up to such analysis and indeed glows with glory under it- doesn't mean that this is the only nor even the intended way to receive the text. The ability to perform such detailed intertextuality just wasn't there for the illiterate; they heard the text of the Gospels as it was read, and there was a message within the text as it stands which they were intended to perceive.

She said to him: Command- Literally, 'say'. The same word is used in describing the Lord's response; He "answered and said [s.w.]" (:22). What He gave or said was not directly what she wanted, but rather an invitation to die with Him, and to share in whatever consequences arise from that.

That in your kingdom- Mk. 'In your glory'. This confirms that she had 19:28 in mind, where the Lord had promised a sitting on thrones when He sat "in the throne of His glory". The mother of James and John wanted them to have great reward in the Kingdom. The Lord’s basic answer was: ‘Take up my cross, follow my example, focused as it is on getting others to the Kingdom’ (Mt. 20:21,27,28). They were to be to others examples of selflessness. In the parable of the labourers, the hard, all day workers came expecting their pay; they were sent away, it could be, in rejection. But those whom the parable appears to commend worked having made no agreement nor mention of the reward they would receive. Thus when James and John clamoured for a reward in the Kingdom, they were told instead to go away and serve; this was what it was all about, being the minister of others, serving for nothing- not badgering the Lord for a reward in the Kingdom (Mt. 20:20-26).

These my two sons may sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left hand- She surely had in mind the Lord's recent assurance that the twelve would sit upon twelve thrones judging the tribes of Israel (19:28). But even that wasn't enough. She wanted even more. The record leaves us gasping at her: 'What? Even that promise, and the prediction of the Lord's death for you- still not enough for you??!'. This is intended to put all our requests and dominant desires in a different context. If we have been promised the Kingdom and the Lord has died for us- then what other dominant desires should we have? Surely none. For those things should be the dominant issues within us.

Mark records the brothers asking: "Master, we would that You should do for us whatsoever we shall desire"- presumably trying to tie the Lord to His words in 18:19 about the successful prayer of “two… who should agree as touching anything they should ask”. But of course the Lord’s context there was quite different. It was about restoring the lost to the way to the Kingdom. So often we likewise can seize hold of the Lord’s words and try to twist them to as it were manipulate God into response. This sort of thing goes on ad nauseam in many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, taking Bible phrases out of context and aggressively holding God to words He never uttered in the context required of them by the audience.  They had the focus all wrong- they wanted to be in the Kingdom "for us". Our motive for wanting to be in the Kingdom needs to be analysed. Is it for God manifestation, or mere human salvation from death that we are interested in [to paraphrase a well known quote from John Thomas]?

20:22 But Jesus answered and said: You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink- The statement that men 'know not' is usually and extensively on the Lord's lips in a negative sense. We can therefore read Him here as deeply disappointed in her. Note how the Lord uses the plural 'you'; He clearly saw that the question was being asked by the sons through their mother, and the parallel records show Him asking them directly what they really wanted. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom. 8:26) seems to be some kind of allusion back to the mother of Zebedee's children asking Christ to get her two sons the best places in the Kingdom (Mt. 20:22). He basically replied 'You know not what you pray for', in the sense of 'you don't appreciate'. It may be that Paul in Rom. 8 is saying that in our desire for the Kingdom, in our groaning for it, we don't appreciate what we ask for as we ought, yet Christ nonetheless makes powerful intercession for us to this end.

The cup that I am about to drink?- The Lord's death was therefore His cup, and also His 'baptism'. He asks us to be baptized with His baptism and to regularly drink His cup in the memorial meeting. These things are easily performed, and yet they are an agreement to die His death. We too can far too easily say "I am able...", when like the disciples, we fail to perceive the horror of the cross and what is being asked of us. We therefore participate in these symbols, these metaphors, with bowed head, deeply aware of our likely failure to carry the cross to the end, but grateful for our participation in His cup and baptism, the One who did in fact die the death of the cross.

And to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?- AV. Note the present tense compared to the future tense of "the cup that I shall drink of". And yet in Lk. 12:50 He speaks of the baptism that He must still be baptized with in crucifixion. His death on the cross was in essence lived and died by Him throughout His life. This is why the prophecy of His death in Isaiah 53 is also quoted about experiences during His life. And there is an ongoing element to baptism, just as Israel were baptized "in the cloud and in the sea" as they passed through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1), and yet lived beneath the cloud throughout their wilderness journey- as if their baptism was ongoing. We likewise die and resurrect with Christ in an ongoing sense as we die to the flesh and progressively experience His new life breaking through into our mortal experience (2 Cor. 4:11). Note too how Paul speaks of baptism in the present tense in Rom. 6:4- we are buried with Him by baptism, although Paul has just said in Rom. 6:3 that we were baptized as a one-time past even. If Paul were simply referencing the point of their baptism in Rom. 6:4, he would have said 'We were buried with Him'. The sense of Col. 2:12 and 1 Cor. 12:13 may be similar- "By one Spirit we are all [present tense] baptized into one body". The whole language of baptism by the Spirit surely suggests a process rather than a one time event of immersion in water.

The Lord spoke with arresting continuous tenses of how ‘The good shepherd is laying down his life for the sheep... I am laying down my life of myself’ (Jn. 10:11,18). He would be delivered up, but in principle He went through it in His daily life beforehand. He speaks of “the cup that I shall drink of, and.. . the baptism that I am baptized with" (Mt. 20:22). This sheds light on four occasions in John’s gospel when the Lord appears to use tenses in a confusing way. He speaks of how He will go to die on the cross, but that in a sense “I am" there already.

They said to him: We are able- The Lord surely remembered their childlike over confidence when He Himself prayed for that cup to be "able" (AV "may" s.w.) to pass from Him so that He didn't have to drink it (Mt. 26:42). Yet the Lord is so generous spirited to them. He says that they will indeed be "able" to drink His cup (:23)- but the places of honour in the Kingdom were solely for the Father to give. He alludes to this in telling Peter that he was not "able" (s.w.) to follow Him to death on the cross at that time, "but you shall follow Me afterwards" (Jn. 13:36). We would likely have told them to take more seriously the Lord's predictions of His death by crucifixion which He had just uttered, and be more realistic about their own failure to suffer and die like that. But He is so more positive and gracious.

The Lord Jesus Christ's sensitivity to our thinking that we really have borne His cross comes out here. Those men, with all their unspirituality, could quite coolly state that they wanted the highest place in the Kingdom, and could say with confidence that they could shoulder the cross of Christ. The Lord's reply was gracious and generous spirited indeed: "Ye shall indeed drink of my cup" - 'when you're a lot more spiritually mature', He could have added. We sense rather than are explicitly told His sensitivity to men thinking they can shoulder His cross; for He alone knows what the cross of Christ entailed and entails. And in speaking of our own sufferings, we too need to learn these lessons, and compare our sufferings against Christ's with the utmost caution, with the sensitivity to His feelings, recognizing that we must act as men and women who have been counted as if we shared His death, and not as those who have actually "resisted unto blood (in our) striving against sin". To confidently identify some of our brethren as tares is only one example of the way in which we can hurt our Lord's feelings, by acting and thinking in ways which are only appropriate for He who did actually carry the cross.

20:23 He said to them: You shall drink- Seeing even the Lord baulked at drinking that cup in Gethsemane, this is an incredibly positive comment to make. But none of us, including the twelve, die the death of the cross as Jesus did. He may have seen this as true insofar as by baptism into His death, His personal death and resurrection are counted to us, as if we have participated in it. As we reconstruct in our own minds His death, every fibre in our being cries out: 'I would not have endured that'. The wonder is that by baptism into Him, His death, that death, even the death of the cross, is counted to us. And with that we should be content, rather than seeking for grandeur in the resurrection age as the disciples were doing. When it came to actually giving the twelve His cup to drink, the Lord invited them: "You- drink all of it" (Mt. 26:27). The force of pas there appears to refer to all of the cup, the whole cup- rather than inviting all of the disciples to drink, because it was surely axiomatic that they were to all drink it. The Lord was saying that He counted them as having fully drunk His cup- a cup which He Himself flinched to take. This is the degree to which we are in Him and counted as participating in His death by reason of our status "in Him". Another possibility is that the Lord spoke these words specifically to the twelve and envisaged that each of them would die through crucifixion- although whether they did is not historically confirmable.

My cup indeed- John's equivalent of this is the Lord's word that unless we drink His blood and eat His flesh, we can have no salvation (Jn. 6:53). This therefore has reference to our participation in His death, and our symbolic acceptance of this in the breaking of bread. To drink the Lord's cup is parallel with partaking at the Lord's memorial table in 1 Cor. 10:21. The breaking of bread means many things, and each time we do it we may likely focus on different aspects. But it is not easy for us, or it should not be easy for us. To drink that cup can never be done in a blase spirit of 'Yes, we are able'. Rather with humbled hearts do we accept that our being counted as having participated in it is by grace alone. Peter was amongst those who thought he was able to drink the Lord's cup, and yet the Lord had to rebuke Peter for seeking to deter Him from drinking it- "Put up your sword... the cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" (Jn. 18:11). Peter's desire for the Lord not to drink it was psychologically rooted in his recognition that the Lord's cup was to be his cup.

But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand- When the disciples foolishly sought to have what they thought were to be the favoured places at His right hand and His left, the Lord could have answered: ‘You foolish people! Those on my left hand will be condemned!’. But He graciously didn’t comment on their glaring error. He pushed a higher principle- that we should not seek for personal greatness, seeing that God is the judge of all (Mt. 20:23). Yet sadly, so much of our preaching has been solely concerned with pointing out the errors of others without being sensitive to what little faith and understanding they do have, and seeking to build on it.

Is not Mine to give- A profound rebuttal of the primitive and mistaken equation of Jesus with God which is found in Trinitarian theology.

But it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father- A specific future is being prepared for each of us in God's Kingdom (22:4; 25:34; 1 Cor. 2:9; Heb. 11:16 "He has prepared for them a city"), a unique place prepared in the Kingdom for us by the Lord's death (Jn. 14:2,3) and yet we are likewise being "prepared" (s.w. Lk. 1:17,76; 12:47; 2 Tim. 2:21; Rev. 19:7; 21:2 "His wife has prepared herself"). God is preparing a unique destiny and role for each of us in His Kingdom, but that preparation work is in terms of how we are being prepared in this life. Therefore all our present experiences are specifically intended to prepare us for the kind of person and role we shall eternally have. In this lives the the ultimate significance and meaning to human experience if we are indeed Kingdom people. A huge amount of intense preparation is being packed into a very short space of time in this life. The lack of meaning and significance attached to even is what causes the depression which dogs each secular person, especially as they grow older. The Lord's point was that He was going to the cross to prepare places for them all in the Kingdom (Jn. 14:2,3 s.w.). He had just predicted His death. This was where their focus was to be, rather than seeking something for themselves.
It’s often been commented that God is beyond or even outside of our kind of time. God pre this present creation may have been like that, and He of course has the capacity and possibility to be like that. But it seems to me that particularly in connection with those with whom He is in relationship, He chooses to not exercise that possibility. Instead, God Almighty throws Himself into our experience, by limiting Himself to our kind of time- with all the suspense, hope, excitement, joy, disappointment which this involves. Time and again we read of how God says He is “shaping evil against you and devising a plan” against His enemies (Jer. 18:11; Jer. 26:3; Jer. 49:20,30; Jer. 50:45; Mic. 2:3; 4:12). For the faithful, He says that He is making plans for them for good and not for evil, “to give you a future” (Jer. 29:11). The Lord Jesus had this sort of thing in mind when He spoke of how the Kingdom will have been being prepared for the faithful from the beginning of the world (Mt. 25:34; Mt. 20:23).

John the Baptist was to “prepare” the way for the Lord’s coming- evidently a process- in reflection of how God had been working a long time to “prepare” [same Greek word] the way for His Son’s coming (Lk. 1:76; Lk. 2:31; Lk. 3:4). We likewise, in our preaching work in these last days, are working in tandem and in step with God. The idea of God 'preparing' implies that there is therefore a gap between the plan being made, and it being executed- hence “The Lord has both planned and done what He spoke concerning the inhabitants of Babylon” (Jer. 51:12; Jer. 4:28; Lam. 2:17; Is. 22:11; Is. 37:26; Zech. 1:6; Zech. 8:14).

20:24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation concerning the two brothers- This suggests that the favour asked was asked secretly. The Lord sensed or overheard their anger, and called the group to Him (:25). The ebb and flow of the disciples to and from Jesus is noted especially in Matthew, probably another indication of their own weakness which formed such a major part of their witness. For the ideal was to abide in Him, to constantly follow Him, and not come to Him and then go from Him in squabbles and jealousies amongst ourselves.

20:25 But Jesus called them to himself, and said: You know- This is in response to the anger of the ten against the self-seeking manipulation of the two. He now taught them the spirit of absolute servanthood as an answer to feeling resentful against the unspirituality of our brethren. Even if they are indeed so terribly wrong and simply 'don't get it', as the two brethren clearly didn't, our response should not be anger but rather servanthood towards them. This is all to be found in the implication of the word "But...".

That the rulers of the Gentiles- The archon, literally, 'the first'. The Lord had just taught in the parable of the labourers that a principle of His Kingdom was that the first were to be last.

Lord it over them- Gk. katakurieuo. Literally, to be kurios over, to be as Lord over. His idea was that if He is our only Lord, then there can be no lording it over others even when they are clearly unspiritual as the two brethren were at this time. This is where our belief in the Lordship of Jesus really cuts deep. For we naturally would like to think that we are superior to those who 'don't get it' about the spirit of Christ. But we are to see Him as total Lord, and ourselves as servants. Our natural anger and indignation at others' weakness is to be replaced by servanthood. And yet the body of Christ is littered with the wreckage of believers angry with others who refused to serve them but rather stormed out from them or rejected them- rather than staying to serve them, realizing that they are under the Lordship.

The style of leadership / control known in this world isn’t to be exercised by the elders of God’s flock (Mt. 20:25,26; 1 Pet. 5:3); ecclesial organization shouldn’t reflect the structures and practices of big commercial organisations, e.g. Leadership is to be based upon spiritual attributes and the ability to change and convert the lives of others, rather than secular skills such as fund raising, computer literacy, management etc. Yet sadly many ecclesias and Christian organisations seem to confuse the difference between management skills and spiritual leadership. The two things aren’t the same. An executive director of a company may very well not be the right brother to lead an ecclesia. The Greek language is full or words containing the compounds kata- and arch-, implying power over others, as part of a hierarchy. The leaders of the Roman world used these terms (Mt. 20:25), as did the synagogue leadership. But never does scripture use these kind of words about those who are ‘elders’ in the true ecclesia. It’s a pointed omission. On the other hand, there are many sun- prefixes: fellow-worker, fellow-citizen, fellow-soldier, fellow-heir etc. The New Testament emphasis is certainly on what we have in common rather on the fact that in practice some are more capable of organising, or deserve especial respect for their evident spirituality and “for their work’s sake”. And the teaching of the Lord Himself was more concerned with how to follow Him than how to lead others. Likewise, there were many contemporary Greek words used to describe religious gatherings, e.g. heorte, synodos, koinos. But instead the word ekklesia is used, meaning a gathering together of town citizens with equal rights to discuss a matter. This is how the word was understood at that time.

And their great ones- The megas, the mighty, the strong, the superior. The context is the sense of spiritual superiority felt by the ten against the spiritual weakness of the two brethren and their mother. 

Exercise authority over them- They have exousia, power, control, over their inferiors. It is the Lord Jesus who is the Lord, and who has this exousia uniquely over His followers and indeed the whole world (Mt. 7:29; 9:6; 21:24; 28:18 etc.). For us to be indignant and superior against the unspirituality of our brethren is thus to usurp the unique role of the Lord Jesus. Quite rightly should we refer to Him as "the Lord", for this is who He must be in daily life and thought. The failure of others does give us in a human sense this exousia, this control, power and superiority- but the Lord goes on to say that it must not be so amongst us (:26), we are to resign this for servanthood. The Lord repeated His teaching here almost verbatim in Lk. 22:25- and He states it there immediately after predicting that one of the twelve would betray Him. He did so because He did not want them to be angry and superior over even Judas- He wanted them to instead resign those feelings for servanthood.

20:26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you- This is in the singular- for "let him be your minister". The Lord may not be intending 'If any of you wants to be the greatest, then be the servant'. He may instead be developing the theme of His absolute and unequalled Lordship by saying that the one who shall be great shall be the minister- and He had solely Himself in view. He knew that He was to be the greatest in the Kingdom, the one with ultimate and total exousia (see on :25). And the path to that was through servanthood, and He invited His men to likewise participate in that servanthood. 

Must be your servant- The idea may be an appeal for the disciples to allow the Lord to be their minister. This appeal had to be repeated at the last supper, when He wished to wash their feet, to be the ultimate servant, and Peter didn't want to "let Him" be his minister. So instead of thinking about what they could personally get out of the Kingdom [as the two brethren], or being spiritually superior over their weaker brethren [the ten], they were to instead accept the Lordship of Jesus and His ministration to them. And the form in which He was supremely a servant was in His death on the cross. And yet as so often, the Lord is speaking to Himself on one level, as well as to the disciples on another level. He is the one who to be great had to make Himself a minister of all, and yet He invites all those in Him to pass through the same process. For all that is true of Him is to be true of us. Hence He goes on to say that "Even as" He ministered, so should they (:28).

One of the commonest allusions to priesthood in the NT is the idea of ministry. Time and again, the Old Testament speaks of the priests ministering in the priest's office. The priests are specifically called God's ministers (Is. 61:6; Jer. 33:21; Ez. 45:4; Joel 1:9,13; 2:17).  The early Christians would have heard and read many of the New Testament references to ministers and ministry as invitations to see themselves as a new priesthood. The Lord said that we should aim to be a minister, a priests, to every one of our brethren, not expecting them to minister to us, but concentrating on ministering to them (Mt. 20:26). This is exactly against the grain of our nature, and also of the concept of religion we find in the world. People expect to have others spiritually ministering to them. They expect a priest-figure to do all their thinking for them. But our Lord said that we are each other's priests, we're not here to be ministered  ('priest-ed') to, but to minister, and give our lives in service to each other.

When James and John asked to have the senior positions, the Lord didn’t rebuke them; he just told them that the greatest would desire to be a servant (Gk. diakonos) of all (Mt. 20:20-28). The utter degradation of the cross, and the Lord’s willing humbling of Himself to accept it, is a pattern for all who would take up His cross. The “servant of all” would make no distinctions concerning whom or how he would serve; such servanthood was a complete and unqualified act of surrender. And this is taken by the Lord as a cameo of His mindset on Calvary. In conscious allusion to this, Paul could speak of how he had become a slave of all men, that he might help some to Christ (1 Cor. 9:19). He was a slave of the Gospel, a slave of the kind who was lower than the least of all others, i.e. a slave of all (Eph. 3:7,9). He didn’t preach himself, but rather preached that he was a servant to all his brethren, for the sake of the fact that he was in Christ, the servant of all (2 Cor. 4:5). Thus he almost advertised his servant status; he preached himself as a slave. Paul wished to be perceived by his brethren and the whole world as merely a slave of Jesus (1 Cor. 4:1). In our talking to each other, or in our writing, it does us good to analyse how many personal pronouns we use; how much we are preaching ourselves rather than Jesus Christ. Any who may appear to be leaders or organisers are serving Him, who debased Himself to that depth. There can be no room at all for any sense of superiority amongst us. We are servants of all, not just of those individual brothers or ecclesias whom we happen to get on well with.

20:27 And whoever would be first among you- The protos (chief) amongst the disciples was clearly the Lord Himself. So again, the Lord may not necessarily be inviting His followers to seek greatness in the future Kingdom, but rather inviting them to focus upon His Lordship and achievement through His upcoming death. Instead He may have Himself in view- the One who is to be chief is to be the servant of the disciples, which the Lord did through His death on the cross. And it is His death there which is the context for this whole teaching, seeing He has just given a detailed prediction of it. However, the Lord's teachings often have reference to both Himself and to the disciples, and we have noted a number of times where He seems to have specific reference to Peter. For Peter was the protos, the chief disciple, according to Mt. 10:2 [s.w.]. And within the Lord's words there is the nod to Peter that he must learn the spirit of servanthood if he is to be worthy of that special calling as the leader of the pack which the Lord clearly had in mind for him. The Lord has just had a lot to say about the protos being last in the preceding parable of the labourers, using the word three times in 20:8,10,16. He is perhaps answering the question which arises from that parable: How practically can we be the last? The answer is by serving as He served, by identifying ourselves with the "last" labourers rather than the "first" who thought they were spiritually superior over their weaker fellow labourers.

The Lord Jesus was the supreme example of spiritual ambition in daily life.   When the disciples debated about who would be greatest in the Kingdom, Christ said that "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be... servant of all" (Mk. 9:34,35).   Christ was the "servant of all" because He desired to be the greatest in the Kingdom.   It was this ambition which motivated His endurance of the daily cross of His life:  "Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:  even as the Son of man came... to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:27,28). He was drawing on the ideas of Hos. 13:1, where Ephraim exalted himself when he humbled himself to speak to God with the trembling of a true humility. The Lord Jesus was not esteemed by men in His death (Is. 53:3); the same word occurs in Dan. 4:17, concerning how Yahweh will exalt the basest, the least esteemed, to be King over the kingdoms of this world. That made-basest man was a reference to the Lord Jesus. He humbled Himself on the cross, that He might be exalted. Peter had his eye on this fact when he asks us to humble ourselves, after the pattern of the Lord, that we might be exalted in due time (1 Pet. 5:6).  Christ desired greatness in the Kingdom, and so can we; for the brighter stars only reflect more glory of the Sun (1 Cor. 15:41).   This very thought alone should lift us up on the eagle wings of Spirit above whatever monotony or grief we now endure.

Shall be your slave- Consider the influence of Christianity on the Greek language of humility. The Lord taught that the leaders, the great ones, in His Kingdom, would be the humble servants (Mt. 20:27). Christ spoke of himself as a humble King, which would have been a contradiction in terms to the first century Greek mind. Consider the following commentary by Alan Hayward: "The ancient Greeks had no time for humility. In fact, their language didn't even have a word for it until well into the first century... the early Christians evidently had to coin a word for it. It's a clumsy, long word, made by sticking together the Greek word 'low-down' and the Greek word 'mentality'. The sudden appearance of this new word in Greek literature during the first century is generally attributed to the influence of the early church" [Alan Hayward, The Humble King, 'The Bible Missionary' No.131, January 1994].

20:28 Even as the Son of Man came- If the Lord was speaking of Himself as the One who was to be the minister so that He might be great, it is possible that verse 28 is a commentary from Matthew rather than the words of the Lord- pointing out that in fact the Lord had Himself in view in the preceding verses.

Not to be ministered to- Surely the Lord develops this teaching when He characterizes the rejected as insisting that they had never missed an opportunity to minister unto Him personally (25:44). Putting these teachings together, perhaps the Lord means us to understand that He did not come to be personally served, but rather does He 'come' to us in the form of His needy brethren, each encounter with them is an encounter with Him. People did of course minister to the Lord in His life (27:55; Mk. 1:31; 15:41; Lk. 8:3 s.w.), but He surely means that He didn't come so much as to be ministered to as to Himself minister to others. In this the exquisite beauty of His Lordship. He is indeed Lord, but He didn't come to be personally treated as Lord but rather His psychological focus was upon what He could do for others. And this is His comment upon the desire of the two brethren to have a grand place in the Kingdom "for us", they were seeking something for themselves, whereas the example of the Lord which they were to follow was of focusing upon serving, rather than having an eye upon the reward.

But to minister- The Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever. His focus in His life was upon serving others, and yet the word is used of how He who served at the last supper shall also 'come forth' [s.w. "the Son of Man came", Mt. 20:28] to "minister" to His people at the future Messianic banquet (Lk. 12:37). 

And to give his life as a ransom for many- The Greek lutron is only used in this place in the NT, although the LXX uses it for the Hebrew pidion, the ransom payment for human life (Ex. 21:30; Num. 3:49-51; Num. 35:31). The word means literally 'to loose'. The idea may be that something [a life, an eternal life] was potentially prepared for the "many" which was tied up [by human sin], which the Lord's death would unloose and make available. But why use this particular term in this context? The connection is clearly with the idea of being a servant, a slave of the lowest order. And what did they loose? The sandals of the guests at meals, after which they washed their feet. There is clearly a connection of thought between the Lord's teaching here and His washing of the disciples' feet at the last supper, whereby He visually fulfilled the picture of being a servant and not being ministered unto, despite Peter's objections. His unloosing of the disciples' sandals and cleansing their feet, dressed as He was on the cross, having laid aside His outer garment and being clothed only with a loincloth, was all a prefigurement of His death on the cross. He invited us all to do as He had done- to participate in His death by dying for others that they might live. And that has various fulfilments day by day, in self control, not demanding from our brother, forgiving, rebuking, caring for, teaching... telephoning, emailing, and so forth.

20:29 And as they went out from Jericho- The healing of the two blind men as they left Jericho must be compared with the healing of Bartimaeus as He left Jericho (Mk. 10:46), and the healing of a blind man as He approached Jericho (Lk. 18:35). These accounts are not in contradiction. One of the two blind men was Bartimaeus, and he is the one Mark focuses on. The healing of the first blind man is indeed described in the same terms as the healing of the other blind men, but the similarity of the language is in order to demonstrate how the Lord worked in the same way in different lives at slightly different times. And there are other examples of incidents repeating in Biblical history but being described in similar language. We are left with an abiding impression that what happens in our lives has been in essence repeated in other lives. And surely the healing of the first blind man inspired the others to take the same leap of faith, just as we are to be inspired by the way others have responded to the Lord's hand in their lives.

A great crowd followed Him- The section began with the idea of the Lord now being on His journey to death in Jerusalem, and bidding the disciples follow Him on that path. The crowd followed, but not in that deeper sense. The same term is used of the healed blind men- they too "followed Him" (:34), but the implication is that they followed Him with understanding. The parallel Mk. 10:52 records that one of the men, Bartimaeus, "followed Jesus in the way". That last phrase would surely be redundant unless it was pregnant with some deeper meaning, and that meaning surely rests in the idea of following the Lord in the way of the cross which led to Golgotha.

20:30 And two blind men who were sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying- Mk. 10:52 speaks of how at least one of these blind men followed Jesus "in the way", using the same word hodos as used here for "the way". Their sad position, sitting maybe for years day by day para or by, next to "the way", was in fact putting them in a position when at the right time, they could get up and follow the Lord along that "way". See on :34 Followed Him

Lord, have mercy on us, you Son of David
- These were exactly the words of the two blind men of 9:27, who were likewise cured as the Lord "departed" from a town, just as here the cure happened as He departed from Jericho. The similarity and connection is obvious. From God's side, we see how He works according to pattern in the lives of people. And humanly, the blind men had somehow passed on to other blind men the truth that there was mercy / grace in the Son of David, which could be manifested in the restoration of sight. In this lies the significance of the fact that according to Lk. 18:35, another blind man had very recently said exactly these words and made exactly this request as the  Lord approached Jericho. Far from being [as supposed by the critics] a jumbling up of material by uninspired writers, we see rather the development of a theme- that blind men at various places and times approached the Lord with the same words, and made the same connection between His mercy and Him being the Son of David. They may simply have thought that as the Son of David, He had the characteristics of David- which included remarkable mercy and grace to his enemies. We also see how once a community is broken into with the Gospel, it spreads within that community, expressed in the words and concepts which that community understands, and in the style which originated with the first ones in the community who accepted the Gospel. I have seen this happen in communities of the deaf, Gypsies, HIV patients, ethnic minorities under persecution, language groups etc. And so it happened amongst the blind beggar community in Palestine. Such communities have amazing links to each other and paths of communication.  

The connection between "the son of David" and "mercy" is surely rooted in the description of the promises to David as "the mercies [chesed] of David" (Is. 55:3; Acts 13:34; 1 Kings 3:6; 2 Chron. 1:8; Ps. 89:49 "The mercies which You promised unto David"; Is. 16:5 "In mercy shall the throne be established... in the tent of David"). These promises were utter grace; "mercy" translates chesed , which is about the closest the OT comes to the NT concept of grace. David rejoiced in this chesed / mercy shown to him (2 Sam. 22:51; 2 Chron. 7:6; Ps. 101:1). Solomon pleaded for grace on the basis of the fact that God had shown such covenant mercies to David (2 Chron. 6:42 "Remember the mercies of David"). The mercies of David surely also refer to God's mercy, the mercy of grace, shown to David in forgiving him the sin with Bathsheba and Uriah- he begged for forgiveness on the basis of God's "tender mercies" (Ps. 51:1). It could be argued that David's forgiveness was on account of his pleading for the mercies shown to him in the Davidic covenant to be continued to him. For in that covenant God had promised that chesed would not depart from David (2 Sam. 7:15), and David therefore begs for forgiveness on the basis that grace / chesedwould indeed not be withdrawn from him (Ps. 51:1). From all this, David pleaded in crisis towards the end of his life to fall into God's hands because "His mercies are great" (2 Sam. 24:14). In response to thechesed ["mercy", or grace] shown David, he too was characterized by humanly senseless chesed to his enemies in the family of Saul (s.w. 1 Sam. 20:15; 2 Sam. 2:5 "you have shewed this kindness / chesed unto Saul"; 2 Sam. 3:8; 9:1,7) and to Hanun his Ammonite enemy (2 Sam. 10:2 "I will shew kindness / chesed unto the Hanun"). What is so impressive is that the network of blind men, from Galilee to Jericho, had figured this out, or at least part of it. They saw the connection between grace and David, and were inspired to throw themselves upon the grace of David's Messianic Son. There was in those times [as there is in much of the world today] a deep belief that blindness was the direct result of sin (Jn. 9:2). These blind men almost certainly felt that their blindness was a result of their sin, and so they felt a moral need for forgiveness, so that the blindness would be lifted. According to Mk. 10:46, one of the blind men was called Bartimaeus, literally 'Son of the unclean'- doubtless this was what he had been dubbed by others, for no Hebrew mother would have named her son that. And they believed that Jesus could indeed cleanse them, morally forgive them, and thereby restore their sight. This would explain why they screamed [Gk.] "Have mercy on us!". This was a moral request; they didn't simply call out for healing.

20:31 And the crowd rebuked them- This is yet another example of where the Lord is presented as eager to accept, when men [including disciples] are more eager to reject. The same word has just been used in 19:13 for how the disciples rebuked the little ones from coming to the Lord- and were in turn rebuked. The impression is that in the disciples' exclusivity, they weren't being [as they supposed] more spiritual than the world around them, but rather were they being simply as that world. Soon afterwards, the Pharisees told the Lord to "rebuke" His disciples, and He replied that it was impossible for them to "hold their peace" (Lk. 19:39,40). These are all words and phrases taken from this incident. Now it is the disciples who refuse to be quiet, and it is the Pharisees who want them to be quiet. Again the point is made that the desire to silence and exclude others is from the world, and not of Christ. The Lord's acceptance of people is consistently painted by the Gospels as being far more inclusive and extensive than that of men. The human tendency to reject and erect barriers is simply not there in Christ.

That they should hold their peace; but they cried out the more, saying, Lord, have mercy on us, you Son of David!- This fits with my comment on 20:21 What do you want?, in that this could be seen as piquing their sense of urgency for Christ.

20:32 And Jesus stood still and called them, and said: What do you desire I do for you?- See on 20:21 What do you want? The Lord a way of focusing men upon their need. Thus He would have passed by the desperate disciples as they struggled in the storm, He would have gone further on the road to Emmaus, and He asked the blind men the obvious question: “What will ye that I shall do unto you?” (Mt. 20:32). He only partially cured another blind man, to focus that man’s mind on the faith that was needed for the second and final stage of the cure (Mk. 8:23-25). He elicited from the father of the epileptic child the miserable childhood story of the boy- not that the Lord needed to know it, but to concentrate the man on his need for the Lord’s intervention (Mk. 9:21). He wanted them to focus on their need: in this case, for sight. He let Peter start to sink, and only then, when Peter’s whole heart and soul were focused on the Lord, did He stretch forth His hand. The Lord deliberately delayed going to see Lazarus until he was dead and buried; to elicit within His followers the acuteness of their need. And was He really sleeping in the boat with the storm all around Him? Was He not waiting there for them to finally quit their human efforts and come running to Him with faith in no other (Mk. 4:38,39)? Only when men were thus focused on their desperate need for the Lord would He answer them. The Lord further focused men’s need when he asked the lame man: “Wilt thou be made whole?” (Jn. 5:6). Of course the man wanted healing. But the Lord first of all focused his desire for it.

20:33 They said to him: Lord, that our eyes may be opened- The one thing they wanted was to see. Those healed blind men are types of us. True understanding (seeing) should be the one thing we want. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom" Prov. 4:7). See on 20:21 What do you want? This was obviously a rhetorical question, and it succeeded in the intention of making the men verbalize their dominant desire. Likewise the Lord works with us to make us focus and understand what is our dominant desire- and then seeks to reposition that focus. In this section He has done that by placing all human desires and requests in the shadow of His death for us. For how could we want anything 'extra' after He has done that for us, with all it enabled.

20:34 And Jesus, being moved with compassion- So often we read this, indeed the Greek word is only used for the compassion of Jesus during His ministry; and it is never in itself because the object of the compassion had some great spirituality or was somehow worthy of that compassion. Rather was it basic pity, which is the idea in the Greek; pity at the human condition. It is exemplified in how the Samaritan had compassion upon the wounded man, and how the Father has compassion on the prodigal (Lk. 10:33; 15:20). In this case, as explained above, the blind men did indeed have quite some spiritual insight. But that of itself didn't elicit the Lord's compassion. The Lord who is the same yesterday as today was and is simply moved by human need- and responds. 

Touched their eyes- Which were likely secreting ritually unclean emissions. Again the Lord shows an eagerness to identify with human uncleanness rather than avoid it. He could, after all, have cured the men in a different manner. This was the same manner in which the Lord had cured the two blind men in 9:29. The critics love to see here a confusion in reporting a singular incident twice. But it seems perfectly likely that the Lord rewarded the fact that these men had heard of the faith of the other blind men, come to share it- and therefore the Lord treated them likewise. There is a continuity and similarity in the way in which the Lord works in human lives, which is why our sufferings are designed so that we can share what we learnt from them with others who are suffering in the same way (2 Cor. 1:4). It likewise explains the otherwise uncanny similarities which there are between the experiences of believers, both with those contemporary with us and personally known to us, and others in the past or of whom we read in the Bible. 

If indeed there are major bloomers in the Gospels and in the Bible generally [as the critics suggest regarding these incidents of healing the pairs of blind men], then naturally the question arises as to how reliable the Biblical text really is. Liberal Christians tend to argue that some is, other parts aren't. But no basis is given for deciding which parts are reliable and which are not. Nor does there seem any reason why God would inspire some parts of the Bible but not others. But the wonder is that the Bible, and the Gospels particularly, can be analyzed at depth and found not to contradict but rather to dovetail seamlessly in a way in which no human piece of writing ever could. This is particularly seen in the four Gospels, and it is this seamlessness and lack of contradiction which led sceptics like Frank Morrison in Who Moved the Stone? to become committed believers in the bodily resurrection of Christ. In musical terms, the whole united record reads as a symphony. There is no need to remove one note from it, or a few notes here and there. The overall wonder is lost by doing so, to the point that it is a desecration of the Divine product. If there are passages which we cannot reconcile, the way of humility is surely to accept that we are still waiting for more insight and understanding- rather than arrogantly insisting that Divine inspiration somehow faltered at that point. 

And immediately they received their sight and followed him- See on :30 Followed Him and :30 Sitting by the way. Mk. 10:52 adds that at least one of the blind men "Followed Him in the way". But He told the man "Go your way" (Mk. 10:52). The man's way was now the Lord's way, the way of the cross. There's surely a play on words here, for akoloutheo translated "followed" means literally 'to be in the same way with'. The Lord told the man to go his way, but the man followed Jesus in His way, the way which has been defined in :17,18 as the way to the cross. Our way is His way, not in that He dominates and subsumes our individuality beneath His own, but in that we each follow Him in our own particular and unique way. That is not to say that we each have our way in life and that journey must of itself be the right one. It's axiomatic that every man has his own path in life. As believers in Christ, our path must be following Him, and not just wandering around in life; but each one in Christ follows their Lord in their own unique path.