“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
– Matthew 20:28
In the last chapter of Matthew, Peter had asked about the rewards that he and the other disciples would receive for their service. Jesus ended by saying that the first will be last and the last will be first. As Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross, he gives his disciples a picture of what he meant. Of course, Jesus’ disciples still continued to misunderstand what he was looking for in their character.
Jesus gives a parable to illustrate how the first will be last and the last will be first. In this parable, the master of a vineyard goes out a number of times throughout the day to hire more workers for his vineyard. The group he hired in the morning was promised a denarius for their work. At the end of the day, the master paid all the workers the same wage, so the ones who had only worked an hour received the same wage as those who had worked all day.
The workers in this parable represent those who work to build up the kingdom of God and the master is Jesus Christ. Workers for the kingdom may start at different times in their life. For example, you probably know someone at your church who has been a faithful servant of God their entire life. In their old age, they are considered a saint in the church. You may also know someone who came to Christ late in their life, but they gave as much time as they could to building the kingdom of God. The conclusion of this parable is that those who have been working to build the kingdom, whether all their life or only a fraction of their life, will receive a reward from Christ. This may not seem fair in our eyes, but it is actually a generosity on the part of Christ. He does not need to give us anything because we do not deserve anything. Instead, he rewards us for our ministry.
For the third time, Jesus tells his disciples of his impending death. This time he reveals that it will be at the hands of the Gentiles (Romans) and by being crucified. We can imagine that the disciples would have been shocked at this new information. To be crucified was a death reserved for the worst of criminals. There were much easier and cheaper ways of death, but crucifixion was expensive. It was usually used for criminals that the Romans wished to make an example of.
After just telling his disciples about the rewards for kingdom service, James’ and John’s mother had the nerve to ask for special rewards for her sons. We do not know why their mother wished for her sons to have this place of prominence. Maybe she was just a concerned mother. The problem was that she nor her sons understood what she was really asking. What was required was for them to drink the same cup that Jesus drank – this means that they would suffer persecution and even death. Both James () and John () experienced suffering as a result of their ministry. In regards to their mother’s request, Jesus cannot change who the Father has already assigned to these positions.
It is understandable why the disciples became indignant to James and John for what their mother did, but Jesus criticizes all the disciples for their continued hunger for authority over each other. Instead, he tells them that they must be servants to one another. Instead of seeking to have power and authority, they should seek to serve the world in the name of Christ. This is what Jesus did by coming as a suffering servant and giving his life on the cross for the salvation of many.
From the unwise request of James’ and John’s mother, Matthew moves to the wise request of two blind beggars on the roadside. The beginning of chapter 21 brings us into the final week before Jesus’ crucifixion. With Jesus getting ready for his triumphal entry and a sacred holiday around the corner, these men could have easily been ignored and drowned out by the large crowd following Jesus.
The blind men who called to Jesus, like many others that Jesus had healed because of their faith, realized that Jesus was no ordinary rabbi. Ignoring the crowd that rebuked them, the men shouted for Jesus to have mercy upon them. In the same way that he asked James’ and John’s mother what she wanted (), he asks them what he can do for them. Being confident in what Jesus could do, they asked for him to open their eyes. He healed them from blindness by touching their eyes, and, in response, the men followed him. These men did not come to Jesus for a free miracle, they came to follow the one who had the power and authority to restore their sight.