Matthew chapter 20

English Standard Version

1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first last."
New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

1For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard. 2And when he had agreed with the laborers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. 5Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? 7They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. 8So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the laborers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. 9And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. 10But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. 11And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 12Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 13But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. 15Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? 16So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
New King James Version

What does Matthew chapter 20 mean?

Matthew 20 records Jesus' teaching, interactions, and healing as He and the disciples continue to travel toward Jerusalem. It begins with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. The parable follows Jesus' statements about the disciples' eternal rewards for following Him. He told them that everyone who leaves behind much to follow Him will be richly rewarded and receive eternal life. He added, though, that many who are first will be last, and the last first (Matthew 19:29–30).

Now Jesus tells a parable to illustrate what this means. He pictures the master of a household in need of workers for his vineyard, likely for the harvest. He goes out early in the morning and hires a group of day-laborers for the agreed-upon price of one denarius a day. Needing still more workers, the master of the house returns to the market place every three hours or so, hiring another group each time for "whatever is right" as compensation (Matthew 20:1–7).

When the time to pay the workers comes, the group hired early in the morning is excited when they see the master pay those hired at 5 p.m. a full denarius. They assume he will pay them much more. They grumble at the master when he pays them a denarius, as well. However, this is exactly what they had agreed to work for. The master insists he has the right to be generous to whomever he chooses. Jesus concludes the story by repeating His teaching that the last will be first, and the first last. This message is somewhat parallel to the end of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:25–32): if God seems to be even more generous to others than He is to us, that does not mean we're being cheated or treated unfairly (Matthew 20:8–16).

Next, Jesus clearly tells the disciples for the third time (Matthew 16:21; 17:22–23) that when they reach Jerusalem, He will be condemned to death by the Jewish religious leaders and then handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged, and crucified. He adds that He will be raised on the third day (Matthew 20:17–19).

Then Jesus is approached by the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Some scholars think this woman is Salome (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1; John 19:25), and possibly Mary's sister. This would make her Jesus' aunt. She asks that her sons be chosen to sit at Jesus' left and right hands in His kingdom. This means they will have the highest positions under Jesus Himself. Jesus turns to James and John and says they don't know what they're asking. He asks if they can drink His cup, meaning the suffering that He will experience. He agrees that they will drink His cup—enduring their own trials and persecution—but answers that the Father is the one who will grant such positions in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20–23).

The other disciples are furious. They recognize this as an attempt by James and John to elevate themselves above the rest and grab power in the kingdom. Jesus explains that greatness in His kingdom is not about ruling over others as the Gentiles do. Instead, those who would be great should serve the others. Whoever would be first must be a slave to the others. After all, Jesus has come to serve and not to be served. This is a lesson He will demonstrate in a very personal way when He washes the disciple's feet during the Last Supper (John 13:12–17). As with His lesson on rewards, Jesus continues to challenge assumptions about greatness and power (Matthew 20:24–28).

Finally, two blind roadside beggars call out to Jesus while He is passing them on the way to Jerusalem. They ask Him to have mercy on them and call Him the Son of David, the name for the Messiah. Jesus heals their blindness. Mark's account (Mark 10:46–52), like Luke's (Luke 18:35–43), focuses on only one of the men, named Bartimaeus. The "Jericho" in question is not the exact same one featured in the book of Joshua (Joshua 6), but a long-removed resettlement nearby. Modern preachers often bring up this event, noting that this is the last time Jesus will pass by this location. The blind men don't know it, but this was their last chance to meet Christ. We never know when a call to follow Jesus in faith will be the last one of our lives (Matthew 20:29–34).
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