Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. For the kingdom. The participle for, is found in the Greek, and connects the present parable with the last verse of the preceding chapter: indeed it is a comment on that text, and describes to us the gospel dispensation. Thus the conduct of God in the choice he makes of members for his spiritual kingdom, the Church, and of his elect for the kingdom of heaven, is not unlike that of the father of a family, who hires workmen to labour in his vineyard. There are various opinions respecting who are meant by the first, and by the last, in this parable. Many of the fathers suppose that the saints of different states and degrees are here designed, whose reward will suffer no diminution from the circumstances of their having come to the service of Christ at a late age of the world, according to Sts. Hilary, Gregory, and Theophylactus; or, at a late age of life, according to Sts. Basil, Jerome, and Fulgentius. In the latter case, however, we must understand that their greater fervour in co-operating with divine grace, in the latter part of their life, has supplied and compensated for the defect of their preceding negligence; hence it may sometimes happen that the reward of such as enter late in life on the service of God, will exceed that of the less fervent who have entered at an earlier period. But as Christ rather seems to speak here of his militant than his triumphant Church, many commentators explain the parable of the Jews and Gentiles. For the Jews, after bearing the yoke of the Mosaic law for so many ages, received nothing more than what was promised to the observance of that law; whilst Christians receive a more plentiful reward for their more easy labour under the sweet yoke of the gospel. In which sense Christ says to the Jews, Luke xiii. 29: Publicans and harlots shall go before you into the kingdom of heaven. “And, strangers shall come from the east, and from the west, and the north, and the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And behold they are last that shall be first, and they are first that shall be last.” (Luke xiii. 30.) — Hence the Jews may be supposed to murmur, that they who are first in their vocation to be the people of God, and first in the observance of his law, should not be preferred to others, who in these respects have been far posterior to them. (Tirinus) — By the vineyard, says St. Chrysostom, we here understand, the commandments of God. The time for labour is the present life. In the first, third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours, i.e. in infancy, youth, manhood, declining years, and extreme decrepitude of age, many individuals, yielding to the effective call of God, labour in the exact performance of the divine commandments. (Hom. lxv.)
Ver. 2. The Roman penny, or denarius, was the 8th part of an ounce; which, at the rate of 5s. per ounce, is 7½d. It is put here for the usual hire of a day-labourer.
Ver. 3. About the third hour. As the Jews divided their nights into four watches, each watch comprehending three hours, so they divided their days into four greater hours, from sunrise to sunset, and each of these great hours contained three lesser hours; so that the whole day from sunrise to sunset, consisted of 12 hours, as also did the night. The first of the great hours, comprehending the three first lesser hours, contained half of the space betwixt the rising of the sun and mid-day; and the end of this time was called the third hour. The next great hour was from that time till mid-day, called the sixth hour. The following great hour contained half of the time betwixt noon and the setting of the sun, the end of which was called the ninth hour. The fourth great hour comprehended the last three lesser hours remaining till sunset, so that at the end of the eleventh hour, mentioned here, ver. 6, began the last lesser hour of the twelve hours of the day; of which our Saviour said, (John xi. 9,) are there not twelve hours in the day? — As to the moral sense of the parable, by the day is commonly expounded all the time from the creation to the end of the world, and so the third hour is reckoned from Adam to Noe; the sixth from Noe to Abraham; the ninth from Abraham to Moses; and from the ninth to the eleventh, was from Moses till Christ’s coming; and the time from Christ to the end of the world, is the 12th hour. Other interpreters, by the day understand human life; and by the different hours, infancy, youth, the age of manhood, old age, and the last hour man’s decrepit age. God is master and disposer of all, who by his grace calls some sooner, some later. The market-place, in which men are so often found idle, as to the great concern of their eternal salvation, is the world. The design of this parable was to shew that the Gentiles, though called later than the Jews, should be made partakers of the promises made to the Jews; this is also the meaning of verse 16, where it is said: the last shall be first, and the first last. (Witham)
Ver. 4. I will give you what shall be just. The prospect of a reward is therefore a good motive, authorized here by Christ himself.
Ver. 7. No man hath hired us. St. Chrysostom again puts us in mind, that in parables all the parts are not significant, but some things are to be taken as mere ornaments of parabolical discourses, as here murmurings, which cannot be found in heaven: nor can men pretend they are not hired into God’s service; God hath given lights, called, hired, and promised heaven to all. The rewards in heaven are also different. And they who are last called, if they labour with greater fervour, may deserve a greater reward than others called before them. (Witham) — The Greek text finishes with, you shall receive what is reasonable. — We must observe here, says St. Chrysostom on the words, because no man hath hired us, that this is the voice of the labourers only, in excuse for their not having entered upon their work before this late hour; for the master of the vineyard had shewn his willingness to hire them all, by going out early for that purpose. Though the fault was their own, he does not upbraid them, but abstains from all harshness and severity, that he may the more easily engage them. (Hom. lxv.)
Ver. 11. And when they received it. By those who laboured all the day in the vineyard, we are to understand such as have spent their whole lives in the service of God; but we are not thence to infer, that in the kingdom of heaven, where all receive their just reward, there is envy, discontent, or any complaint. By these words, Christ wishes to convey to our minds an idea of the immense honours that will be heaped upon all such as return with sincerity, though at the decline or even verge of life, to the Almighty. So exceeding great will be their reward, that it would excite envy, were it possible, even in the elect. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxv.)
Ver. 14. I will also give. Some are called to the service of their God, and to a life of virtue, from their infancy, whilst others, by a powerful call from above, are converted late in life, that the former may have no occasion to glory in themselves, or to despise those who, even in the 11th hour, enter upon the path of rectitude; and that all might learn that there is time sufficient, however short, left them to repair by their diligence and fervour their past losses. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxv.) — Jesus Christ does not count so much the number of years, as the fervour and diligence we employ in his service. Calvin is rather unhappy in his choice of this parable to prove his favourite tenet, that salvation is not the reward of good works, but of faith alone, or predestination, since Jesus Christ represents heaven as given wholly as a just reward of meritorious labour in the vineyard, though some labour a shorter, and others a longer time, and God of his great goodness may give more to some than to others, while to all He gives at least their due. And a truly humble Christian will be ever satisfied with his lot, without envying that of others. (Haydock) — As star differeth from star in glory in the firmament, (1 Corinthians xv. 41,) so will there be different degrees of glory in heaven. (St. Augustine, de virgin. chap. xxvi.)
Ver. 16. Few chosen: only such as have not despised their caller, but followed and believed him; for men believed not, but of their own free will. (St. Augustine, lib. i, ad Simplic. q. ii.) (Bristow) — Hence the rejection of the Jews and of negligent Christians, and the conversion of strangers, who come and take their place, by a conversion both of faith and morals. On the part of God all are called. (Matthew xi. 28.) Come to me all, &c. In effect, many after their call, have attained to faith and justification; but few in comparison are elected to eternal glory, because the far greater part do not obey the call, but refuse to come, whilst many of those who come fall away again; and thus very few, in comparison with those that perish, will at the last day be selected for eternal glory. (Tirinus)
Ver. 18. Behold we go, &c. Jesus here, for the third time, foretells his death; (the first time, Matthew xvi. 21; the second time, Matthew xvii. 21.) Our salvation and happiness are owing to the death of Christ; neither is there any thing that more loudly calls for our gratitude than his sufferings and death. Jesus takes the 12 apart, and reveals to them the mystery of his passion. He had previously declared it in public, but in ambiguous terms, saying: destroy this temple, &c. A sign shall not be given, but the sign of Jonas the prophet; but here he manifestly expounds to his disciples the mystery: behold we go up to Jerusalem, &c. This discourse of our Saviour is remarkable for an energetic strength of expression. (St. Chrysostom) — Jesus had repeatedly spoken to his apostles of his passion; but as much of what he had said had escaped their memory, now that he is upon the road to Jerusalem in company with his disciples, he brings it back to their recollection, to fortify them against the scandal they might take at his ignominious death. (St. Jerome)
Ver. 19. The third day he shall rise again. We may take notice, that as often as Christ mentioned his sufferings and death, he also joined his resurrection, that they might take notice, and not lose their faith. (Witham) — Like the rest of the Jews, the apostles were so fully prepossessed with the idea that the Messias would be immortal, that they could not understand what Jesus Christ said to them. He, however, did reveal these things, that, on a future day, recollecting how their Lord and Master had foreseen and foretold to them the most material circumstances relating to his passion and death, they might believe more firmly in him, and be convinced that he suffered of his own free choice. (Haydock)
Ver. 20. Then came to him. Upon Christ’s informing his apostles that he should die and rise again, they conceived that he would immediately reign in Jerusalem with great glory and power; and it was this made the mother of the sons of Zebedee petition that they might take precedence, and be honoured by the other apostles. But Christ answers them that they knew not what they asked, for honours were to be bestowed not on relationship, but on merit: in like manner, the dignities of the Church are not to be conferred upon relatives, but upon the worthy. (Nicholas of Lyra.) — On comparing the 27th chapter of St. Matthew with the 15th of St. Mark, it will appear that she was the same as Salome. — In St. Mark x. 35, we find that the sons themselves made this petition: both the sons and their mother might make it; at least the sons may be said to have done what they got their mother to desire for them; and therefore Christ directed his answer to them: you know not what you ask. You think, says St. Chrysostom of temporal preferments, of honours, and crowns, when you should be preparing yourselves for conflicts and battles. (Witham) — Our Lord suffers these occasional weaknesses in his apostles, that he might, from his instructions and corrections, render his doctrines more intelligible to them and to posterity. (St. Jerome)
Ver. 22. The chalice. It is a metaphor signifying Christ’s sufferings and death. See Psalm x. 7. and lxxiv. 9. Isaias li. 17. The apostles replied, we can drink thy cup. Their answer shewed their readiness, but want of humility. (Witham)
Ver. 23. Of my chalice indeed you shall drink. St. James was the first apostle that suffered martyrdom at Jerusalem. (Acts xii. 2.) And St. John at Rome was put into a cauldron of boiling oil, and banished into Patmos. — Is not mine to give you. The Arians objected these words against Christ’s divinity. St. Augustine answers that the words are true if taken of Christ, as he was man. The easier answer is, that it was not his to give to them, while they were in those dispositions of pride and ambition. So that the distinction made, is not betwixt the Father and his eternal Son, as if the Father could give what the Son could not, but betwixt persons worthy, and not worthy of such a favour. It is true the word you, is now wanting in the Greek manuscripts and must have been wanting in some of them in the fourth, or at least the fifth century, since we find them not in St. Chrysostom. St. Augustine also in one place omits it, but sometimes lays great stress upon it; Christ’s meaning being no more, than that heaven was not his to give them; that is, to the proud, &c. St. Ambrose reads it; and what is still of greater weight, St. Jerome hath it in the text of the New Testament, which he corrected from the best Greek manuscripts. (Witham) — In your present state there is no exception of persons with God; for, whosoever is worthy of heaven, shall receive it as the reward of his merits. Therefore Christ answers them, it is not mine to bestow the kingdom of heaven upon you, because you are not yet deserving, on account of your pride in seeking to have yourselves preferred before my other apostles. But be ye humble, and heaven is prepared for you, as well as for all others, who are properly disposed. (Nicholas of Lyra.) — Greatness in the next life will be proportioned to humility in this.
Ver. 24. The ten … were moved with indignation against the two brothers, who had petitioned for the first and chief places. (Witham) — The disciples understood from our Lord’s answer, that the request came in the first instance from the two disciples; but as they saw them much honoured by Christ, they did not dare openly to accuse them. (St. Chrysostom) — The other ten apostles were as much wrong in their anger and jealousy as the former two were in their untimely petition. In his answer to both, we cannot sufficiently admire the wonderful meekness of our blessed Saviour’s character. (Jansenius)
Ver. 25. Princes of the Gentiles lord it over them: tyrannize over those that are under them, by arbitrary and violent proceedings. (Witham) — Our Lord wishing to extinguish the indignation conceived against the two brothers, lays before them the difference of secular and ecclesiastical princes, shewing that precedency in the Church is neither to be sought for by him who is not possessed of it, nor too eagerly loved by him who has it; for secular princes are lords of their subjects, keeping them under subjection, and govern them in every particular according to their will; but ecclesiastical princes are honoured with precedency, that they may be servants of their inferiors, administer to them whatever they have received from Christ, neglect their own convenience for the good of their neighbour, and be willing even to die for the spiritual good of their subjects. It is neither just nor reasonable, therefore, to desire precedency in the Church, without these qualifications. No prudent man is willing to subject himself to such servitude and danger, as to take upon himself the obligation of having to give an account of the wickedness and perversity of others, unless fearless of the divine judgments, he abuse his ecclesiastical superiority. (St. Chrysostom)
Ver. 28. A redemption for many; i.e. for all, as it is sometimes the style of the Scriptures. See St. Paul, 1 Timothy ii. 6. (Witham) — Certain Puritans pretend from this part of holy Scripture, that all superiority is forbidden; but it is merely pride, ambition, and haughtiness, not superiority, that is here proscribed. Jesus Christ himself, as Son of man, was their and our Superior, Lord, and Master, notwithstanding his humility. (Bristow) — For the divine appointment of both civil and ecclesiastical government, see Romans xiii. 2.; and 1 Corinthians xii. 28.; Hebrews chap. xiii. 7, 17.
Ver. 30. Two blind men. St. Mark, (x. 46.) when he seems to relate the same passage, mentions but one, called Bartimeus; perhaps because he was the more famous of the two. (Witham) — These were very opportunely presented to our Lord, that they might go up to Jerusalem with him, after they had received sight from his divine hands, and appear there as witnesses of the divinity of his mission. (St. Chrysostom, hom. lxvi, in Matt.) — We may here consider, if the blindness of the body be looked upon as a very great misfortune, how much greater must be the darkness of the soul. The former is only a privation of the light of day, the other is a privation of the light of grace and glory. The light of this world, though a great blessing, is enjoyed in common with the brute creation; it serves only to distinguish material objects. The light which Christ communicates to the soul, enables us to know God and his sacred truths, as revealed to his holy Catholic Church; it elevates us above all inferior creatures, it dissipates the spiritual darkness caused by sin and our unruly passions, and conducts us to the true light of eternal glory. Oh what unspeakable joy must then fill and overwhelm the elect, when in the light of God they see light itself, the bright countenance of their loving and beloved Father!!!
 Ver. 23. Non est meum dare vobis. Now we read only in the Greek, ouk estin emon dounai. It is so also in St. Chrysostom, in St. Cyril, (in Thesauro, Assertione xxvi, tom. v. p. 243) where he answers this objection of the Arians. Nor is umin, in the Greek text of St. Epiphanius (hær. lxix, p. 742) though it be put there in the Latin translation. St. Augustine has not vobis: (lib. i. de Trin. chap. xii, p. 765 G. tom. viii.) but in Psalm ciii, (tom. iv, p. 1157) he says, Quid est non est meum dare vobis? non est meum dare superbis. St. Ambrose (lib. v. de Fide, tom. iv. chap. iii, p. 147) Non dixit non est meum dare, sed non est meum dare vobis, hoc est, non sibi potestatem deesse asserens, sed metum creaturis. Besides the Fathers, who did not read vobis in the text, shew by their expositions, that they took the sense to be the same, and no ways favourable to the Arians. See St. Augustine, lib. i. de Trin. p. 766. A. non est meum dare, ac si diceretur, non est humanæ potestatis hoc dare, ut per illud intelligatur hoc dare, per quod Deus est æqualis Patri, &c. See St. Chrysostom, hom. lxvi.; St. Cyril in Thesauro assert. xxvi. p. 243.; St. Epiphanius hær. lxix, p. 742, &c.
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard. The ambition of the two sons of Zebedee. Christ gives sight to two blind men.
1 The *kingdom of heaven is like to a master of a family, who went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
2 And having agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
3 And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the market-place,
4 And he said to them, Go you also into my vineyard, and I will give you what shall be just.
5 And they went their way. And again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did in like manner.
6 But about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing, and he saith to them: Why stand you here all the day idle?
7 They say to him: Because no man hath hired us. He saith to them: Go you also into my vineyard.
8 And when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith to his steward: Call the labourers and pay them their hire, beginning from the last even to the first.
9 When therefore they came, who had come about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
10 But when the first also came, they thought that they should have received more: and they likewise received every man a penny.
11 And receiving it, they murmured against the master of the house,
12 Saying: These last have worked but one hour, and thou hast made them equal to us, that have borne the burden of the day and the heats.
13 But he answering one of them, said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst thou not agree with me for a penny?
14 Take what is thine, and go thy way: I will also give to this last even as to thee.
15 Or is it not lawful for me to do what I will? is thy eye evil, because I am good?
16 *So shall the last be first, and the first last. For many are called but few chosen.
17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart, and said to them:
18 Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.
19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified, and the third day he shall rise again.
20 *Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, worshipping and asking something of him.
21 And he said to her: What wilt thou? She saith to him: Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom.
22 But Jesus answering, said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink of the chalice that I shall drink? They say to him: We can.
23 He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink: but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father.
24 *And the ten hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren.
25 *But Jesus called them to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them: and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them.
26 It shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister:
27 And he that would be first among you, shall be your servant.
28 *Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
29 *And when they went out from Jericho, a great multitude followed him.
30 And behold two blind men sitting by the way side, heard that Jesus passed by, and they cried out, saying: O Lord, son of David, have mercy on us.
31 And the multitude rebuked them that they should hold their peace. But they cried out the more, saying: O Lord, son of David, have mercy on us.
32 And Jesus stood, and called them, and said: What will ye that I do to you?
33 They say to him: Lord, that our eyes may be opened.
34 And Jesus having compassion on them, touched their eyes. And immediately they received sight, and followed him.
1: about the year A.D. 33.; Mark x. 32, 34.; Luke xviii. 31, 34.
16: Matthew xix. 30.; Mark x. 31.; Luke xiii. 30.
20: Mark x. 35.
24: Mark x. 41.
25: Luke xxii. 25.
28: Philippians ii. 7.
29: Mark x. 46.; Luke xviii. 35.