Matthew 20: Fairness and service

For the text of Matthew 20, click here.

First thing in this chapter is a comparison of God to the master of a vineyard who shows mercy to those who have worked there. He begins by making a deal with a set of workers for a certain wage and a certain amount of work. To me, this sounds like Israel and the covenant. Then the master sees other people throughout the day who aren’t working at any job and he gives them work. This sounds like all of the rest of us who aren’t part of the covenant, especially since he just says “whatever is right, I will give you” without setting a specific wage. At the end of the work day, everyone is given the same amount of money. The people who made the deal are upset because they got the same amount of money as the people who started later.

The master of the vineyard reminds them of the deal that had been at the beginning of the day and insists that he can do whatever he wants with his money and they shouldn’t begrudge him generosity. With that in mind, those of us coming to God later in history will still get to go to heaven if God chooses to let us in. It sounds like another argument about how it’s not about earning entry as much as God wanting to give it to us. But a deal is a deal once made too.

From there, Jesus “was going up to Jerusalem” and He reminds the disciples again about what’s to happen to Him there. I think that’s the third or fourth time He tries to warn them.

Then the mother of two of the disciples comes over and asks that her sons sit at the right and left of Jesus when He gets heaven, but He pushes back on the request. First He asks whether or not they can tolerate what He has to, and when they agree, He assures them that they will but that those are not positions for him to give away. This makes sense because if Jesus sits on the right side of God, that means God is to His left and that seat is not open for one of them. Furthermore, positions of honor such as this are for God to give.

Still, the rest are upset with them for even asking for this favor and Jesus reminds them of the least and first. It’s interesting to see the wording here and to think about the things that have been done in the name of Christianity to other people instead of for other people. It’s evidence that it’s not faith that makes people do power hungry things. It can’t be, otherwise it would have gone the other way.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,c 27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,d 28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

If you want to be first in the kingdom of heaven, be a slave to others here. And specifically, don’t rule or exercise authority over them. Give until it hurts.

The last section here is a healing, but it also gives a clue as to where they were coming from. I know it said Jesus was going toward Jerusalem earlier in the chapter, but He couldn’t have been that close. Looking at my map, the teaching began as soon as they hit Judea, but they were still closer to the border because this section has them just then leaving Jericho, which was close to the border with Perea (modern day Jordan along the Jordan River). Here, outside of Jericho, Jesus heals the sight of two blind men who follow Him afterward.

For downloadable study guides, click here.

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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