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As this parable is nothing else than a confirmation of the preceding sentence, the last shall be first, it now remains to see in what manner it ought to be applied. Some commentators reduce it to this general proposition, that the glory of all; will be equal, because the heavenly inheritance is not obtained by the merits of works, but is bestowed freely. But Christ does not here argue either about the equality of the heavenly glory, or about the future condition of the godly. He only declares that those who were first in point of time have no right to boast or to insult others; because the Lord, whenever he pleases, may call those whom he appeared for a time to disregard, and may make them equal, or even superior, to the first. If any man should resolve to sift out with exactness every portion of this parable, his curiosity would be useless; and therefore we have nothing more to inquire than what was the design of Christ to teach. Now we have already said that he had no other object in view than to excite his people by continual spurs to make progress. We know that indolence almost always springs from excessive confidence; and this is the reason why many, as if they had reached the goal, stop short in the middle of the course. Thus Paul enjoins us to forget the things which are behind, (Philippians 3:13,) that, reflecting on what yet remains for us, we may arouse ourselves to persevere in running. But there will be no harm in examining the words, that the doctrine may be more clearly evinced.
Matthew 20:1.For the kingdom of heaven is like a householder. The meaning is, that such is the nature of the divine calling, as if a man were, early in the morning, to hire laborers for the cultivation of his vineyard at a fixed price, and were afterwards to employ others without an agreement, but to give them an equal hire. He uses the phrase, kingdom of heaven, because he compares the spiritual life to the earthly life, and the reward of eternal life to money which men pay in return for work that has been done for them. There are some who give an ingenious interpretation to this passage, as if Christ were distinguishing between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews, they tell us, were called at the first hour, with an agreement as to the hire; for the Lord promised to them eternal life, on the condition that they should fulfill the law; while, in calling the Gentiles, no bargain was made at least as to works, for salvation was freely offered to them in Christ. But all subtleties of that sort are unseasonable; for the Lord makes no distinction in the bargain, but only in the time; because those who entered last, and in the evening, into the vineyard, receive the same hire with the first Though, in the Law, God formerly promised to the Jews the hire of works, (Leviticus 18:5,) yet we know that this was without effect, because no man ever obtained salvation by his merits.
Why then, it will be said, does Christ expressly mention a bargain (643) in reference to the first, but make no mention of it in reference to the others? It was in order to show that, without doing injury to any one, as much honor is conferred on the last, as if they had been called at the beginning. For strictly speaking, he owes no man any thing, and from us, who are devoted to his service, he demands, as a matter of right, all the duties which are incumbent on us. But as he freely offers to us a reward, he is said to hire the labors which, on other grounds, were due to him. This is also the reason why he gives the name of a hire to the crown which he bestows freely. Again, in order to show that we have no right to complain of God, if he make us companions in honor with those who followed us after a long interval, he borrowed a comparison from the ordinary custom of men, who bargain about the hire, before they send laborers to their work.
If any man infer from this, that men are created for the purpose of doing something, and that every man has his province assigned him by God, that they may not sit down in idleness, he will offer no violence to the words of Christ. (644) We are also at liberty to infer, that our whole life is unprofitable, and that we are justly accused of indolence, until each of us regulate his life by the command and calling of God. Hence it follows, that they labor to no purpose, who rashly undertake this or that course of life, and do not wait for the intimation of the call of God. Lastly, we learn from the words of Christ, that those only are pleasing to God, who labor for the advantage of their brethren.
A penny (which was rather more than four times the value of a French carolus,) (645) was probably the ordinary hire for a day’s work. The third, sixth, and ninth hour, are expressly mentioned, because, while the ancients were wont to divide the day into twelve hours, from sunrise to sunset, there was another division of the day into every three hours; as, again, the night was divided into four watches; and so the eleventh hour means the close of the day.
(645) A penny (
8.And when the evening was come. It would be improper to look for a mystery in the injunction of the householder to begin with the last, as if God crowned those first who were last in the order of time; for such a notion would not at all agree with the doctrine of Paul. They that are alive, he says, at the coming of Christ will not come before those who previously fell asleep in Christ, but will follow, (1 Thessalonians 4:15.) But Christ observes a different order in this passage, because he could not otherwise have expressed — what he afterwards adds — that the first murmured, because they did not receive more (646)
Besides, he did not intend to say that this murmuring will take place at the last day, but merely to affirm that there will be no occasion for murmuring The personification (
16.So the first shall be last. He does not now compare the Jews to the Gentiles, (as in another passages) nor the reprobate, who swerve from the faith, to the elect who persevere; and therefore the sentence which is introduced by some interpreters, many are called, but few are chosen, does not apply to that point. Christ only meant to say that every one who has been called before others ought to run with so much the greater alacrity, and, next, to exhort all men to be modest, not to give themselves the preference above others, but willingly to share with them a common prize. As the apostles were the first-fruits of the whole church, they appeared to possess some superiority; and Christ did not deny that they would sit as judges to govern the twelve tribes of Israel. But that they might not be carried away by ambition or vain confidence in themselves, it was necessary also to remind them that others, who would long afterwards be called, would be partakers of the same glory, because God is not limited to any person, but calls freely whomsoever He pleases, and bestows on those who are called whatever rewards He thinks fit.
Though the apostles had been previously informed what kind of death awaited our Lord, yet as they had not sufficiently profited by it, he now repeats anew what he had frequently said. He sees that the day of his death is at hand; nay more, he is already in a state of readiness to offer himself to be sacrificed; and, on the other hand, he sees the disciples not only afraid, but overwhelmed by blind alarm. He therefore exhorts them to steadiness, that they may not immediately yield to temptation. Now there are two methods by which he confirms them; for, by foretelling what would happen, he not only fortifies them, that they may not give way, when a calamity, which has arisen suddenly and contrary to expectation, takes them by surprise, but meets the offense of the cross by a proof of his Divinity, that they may not lose courage at beholding his short abasement, when they are convinced that he is the Son of God, and therefore will be victorious over death. The second method of confirmation is taken from his approaching resurrection.
But it will be proper to look more closely at the words. Mark states — what is omitted by the other two Evangelists — that, before our Lord explained to his disciples in private that he was going straight to the sacrifice of death, not only they, but also the rest of his followers, were sorrowful and trembli ng. Now why they were seized with this fear it is not easy to say, if it was not because they had already learned that they had dangerous adversaries at Jerusalem, and would therefore have wished that Christ should remain in some quiet retreat beyond the reach of the darts, rather than voluntarily expose himself to such inveterate enemies. Although this fear was in many respects improper, yet the circumstance of their following Christ is a proof of no ordinary respect and obedience. It would indeed have been far better to hasten cheerfully and without regret, wheresoever the Son of God chose to lead them; but commendation is due to their reverence for his person, which appears in choosing to do violence to their own feelings rather than to forsake him.
Matthew 20:17.Took the twelve disciples apart in the way It may appear surprising that he makes the twelve alone acquainted with his secret, since all have need of consolation, for all had been alike seized with fear. I consider the reason why he did not publish his death to have been, that the report might not spread too widely before the time. Besides, as he did not expect that the warning would be of immediate advantage, he reckoned it enough to entrust it to a few, who were afterwards to be his witnesses. For, as the seed thrown into the earth does not immediately spring up, so we know that Christ said many things to the apostles which did not immediately yield fruit. And if he had admitted all indiscriminately to this discourse, it was possible that many persons, seized with alarm, might flee, and fill the ears of the public with this report; and thus the death of Christ would have lost its glory, because he would have appeared to have rashly brought it on himself. Secretly, therefore, he addresses the apostles, and does not even select them as qualified to receive profit by it, but, as I lately hinted, that they may afterwards be witnesses.
On this subject Luke is more full than the others; for he relates not only that Christ predicted the events which were near at hand, but also that he added the doctrine, that those things which had been written by the prophets would be accomplished in the Son of man. It was an excellent remedy for overcoming temptation, to perceive in the very ignominy of the cross the marks by which the Prophets had pointed out the promised Author of salvation. There can be no doubt that our Lord pointed out also from the Prophets what kind of fruit they ought to expect from his death; for the Prophets do not only teach that Christ must suffer, but add the reason, that he may reconcile the world to God.
18.Lo, we go up to Jerusalem. Hence we perceive that Christ was endued with divine fortitude for overcoming the terrors of death, for he knowingly and willingly hastens to undergo it. (649) For why does he, without any constraint, march forward to suffer a shocking murder, but because the invincible power of the Spirit enabled him to subdue fear, and raised him above all human feelings? By a minute detail of the circumstances, he gives a still more evident proof of his Divinity. For he could not — as man — have foreseen that, after having been condemned by the chief priests and scribes, he would be delivered up to the Gentiles, and spat on, and mocked in various ways, and scourged, and at length dragged to the punishment of the cross Yet it must be observed that, though our Lord was fully acquainted with the weakness of his disciples, he does not conceal from them a very grievous offense. For — as we have said on a former occasion (650) — nothing could at that time have happened more powerfully calculated to shake the minds of the godly, than to see the whole of the sacred order of the Church opposed to Christ.
And yet he does not spare their weakness by deceiving them, but, candidly declaring the whole matter, points out the way to overcome temptation; namely, by looking forward with certainty to his resurrection. But as it was necessary that His death should go before, he makes their triumph, in the meantime, to consist in hope.
(650) See p. 301 of this volume.
Matthew 20:20.Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children. This narrative contains a bright mirror of human vanity; for it shows that proper and holy zeal is often accompanied by ambition, or some other vice of the flesh, so that they who follow Christ have a different object in view from what they ought to have. They who are not satisfied with himself alone, but seek this or the other thing apart from him and his promises, wander egregiously from the right path. Nor is it enough that, at the commencement, we sincerely apply our minds to Christ, if we do not stead-lastly maintain the same purity; for frequently, in the midst of the course, there spring up sinful affections by which we are led astray. In this way it is probable that the two sons of Zebedee were, at first, sincere in their adherence to Christ; but when they see that they have no ordinary share of his favor, and hear his reign spoken of as near at hand, their minds are immediately led to wicked ambition, and they are greatly distressed at the thought of remaining in their present situation. If this happens to two excellent disciples, with what care ought we to walk, if we do not wish to turn aside from the right path! More especially, when any plausible occasion presents itself, we ought to be on our guard, lest the desire of honors corrupt the feeling of piety.
Though Matthew and Mark differ somewhat in the words, yet they agree as to the substance of the matter. Matthew says that the wife of Zebedee came, and asked for her sons that they might hold the highest places in the kingdom of Christ. Mark represents themselves as making the request. But it is probable that, being restrained by bashfulness, they had the dexterity to employ their mother, who would present the request with greater boldness. That the wish came originally from themselves may be inferred from this circumstance, that Christ replied to them, and not to their mother. Besides, when their mother, bowing down, states that she has something to ask, and when themselves, according to Mark, apply for a general engagement,that whatever they ask shall be granted to them, this timid insinuation proves that they were conscious of something wrong. (654)
21.In the kingdom. It was worthy of commendation in the sons of Zebedee, that they expected some kingdom of Christ, of which not even the slightest trace was then visible. They see Christ exposed to contempt under the mean aspect of a servant; nay more, they see him despised and loaded with many reproaches by the world; but they are convinced that he will soon become a magnificent king, for so he had taught them. It is unquestionably a noble specimen of faith; but hence we perceive how easily the pure seed is no sooner implanted in our hearts than it becomes degenerate and corrupted; for they imagined to themselves a kingdom which had no existence, and presently committed the folly of desiring the highest places. Since, therefore, this wicked ambition flowed from a general principle of faith, which in itself was highly commendable, we ought to pray, not only that the Lord would open the eyes of our mind, but that he would give us continual direction, and keep our minds fixed on the proper object. We ought also to pray, not only that he would bestow faith upon us, but that he would keep it pure from all mixture.
22.You know not what you ask. Their ignorance was worthy of blame on two accounts; first, because their ambition led them to desire more than was proper; and, secondly, because, instead of the heavenly kingdom of Christ, they had formed the idea of a phantom in the air. As to the first of those reasons, whoever is not satisfied with the free adoption of God, and desires to raise himself, such a person wanders beyond his limits, and, by unseasonably pressing himself forward beyond what was proper for him to do, is ungrateful to God. Now to estimate the spiritual kingdom of Christ according to the feeling of our flesh is highly perverse. And, indeed, the greater the delight which the mind of man takes in idle speculations, the more carefully ought we to guard against them; as we see that the books of the sophists are stuffed with useless notions of this sort.
Can you drink the cup which I shall drink? To correct their ambition, and to withdraw them from this wicked desire, he holds out to them the cross, and all the annoyances which the children of God must endure. As if he had said, “Does your present warfare allow you so much leisure, that you are now making arrangements for a triumphal procession?” For if they had been earnestly employed in the duties of their calling, they would never have given way to this wicked imagination. In these words, therefore, those who are desirous to obtain the prize before the proper time are enjoined by Christ to employ themselves in attending to the duties of piety. And certainly this is an excellent bridle for restraining ambition; for, so long as we are pilgrims in this world, our condition is such as ought to banish vain luxuries. We are surrounded by a thousand dangers. Sometimes the enemy assails us by ambush, and that in a variety of ways; and sometimes he attacks us by open violence. Is he not worse than stupid who, amidst so many deaths, entertains himself at his ease by drawing pictures of a triumph?
Our Lord enjoins his followers, indeed, to feel assured of victory, and to sing a triumphal song in the midst of death; for otherwise they would not have courage to fight valiantly. But it is one thing to advance manfully to the battle, in reliance on the reward which God has promised to them, and to labor with their whole might for this object; and it is another thing to forget the contest, to turn aside from the enemy, to lose sight of dangers, and to rush forward to triumph, for which they ought to wait till the proper time. Besides, this foolish speed, for the most part, draws men aside from their calling; for as in battle the greatest coward is the keenest to seize the booty, so in the kingdom of Christ none are more eager to obtain the superiority than those who shrink from all the annoyance which attends toil. Most properly, therefore, does Christ enjoin those who were puffed up with vain glory to keep by their post. (655) The sum of the whole is, that for none but him who has fought lawfully is the crown prepared; and especially, that none will be a partaker of the life and the kingdom of Christ who has not previously shared in his sufferings and death.
In the word baptism the force of the metaphor is very evident; for we know that by baptism believers are instructed to deny themselves, (Matthew 45:24;) to crucify the old man, ( Romans 6:6;) and, in short, to bear the cross It is uncertain if, by the word cup, (
These words contain no ordinary consolation for alleviating the bitterness of the cross, when in the cross Christ associates himself with us. And what could be more desirable than to have every thing in common with the Son of God? for thus are those things which at first sight appear to be deadly made to yield to us salvation and life. On the other hand, how shall he be reckoned among the disciples of Christ, who desires to be wholly exempted from the cross? For such person refuses to submit to the baptism of Christ, which is nothing else than to withdraw from the earliest lessons. (657) Now whenever baptism is mentioned, let us recollect that we were baptized on this condition, and for this purpose, that the cross may be attached to our shoulders.
The boast made with so much confidence by John and James, that they are prepared to drink the cup, manifests the presumption of the flesh; for, when we are beyond the reach of darts, we think nothing impossible. And not long afterwards, the melancholy result exposed their rashness; but in so far it was good in them that, when they were free to make a choice, they presented themselves to bear the cross.
23.You shall indeed drink my cup. As they were disciples, it was proper that they should be assimilated to their Master. Christ warns them of what will take place, that they may be prepared to endure it with patience; and, in the persons of two men, he addresses all his followers. For though many believers die a natural death, and without violence or shedding of blood, yet it is common to all of them, as Paul informs us, (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18,) to be conformed to the image of Christ; and, therefore,
during their whole life, they are sheep appointed to the slaughter,
Is not mine to give (658) By this reply Christ surrenders nothing, but only states that the Father had not assigned to him this office of appointing to each person his own peculiar place in the kingdom of heaven. He came, indeed, in order to bring all his people to eternal life; but we ought to reckon it enough that the inheritance obtained by his blood awaits us. As to the degree in which some men rise above others, it is not our business to inquire, and God did not intend that it should be revealed to us by Christ, but that it should be reserved till the latest revelation. We have now ascertained Christ’s meaning; for he does not here reason as to his power, but only desires us to consider for what purpose he was sent by the Father, and what corresponds to his calling, and therefore distinguishes between the secret purpose of God and the nature of that teaching which had been enjoined on him. It is a useful warning, that we may learn to be wise with sobriety, and may not attempt to force our way into the hidden mysteries of God, and more especially, that we may not indulge excessive curiosity in our inquiries about the future state; for
It hath not yet appeared what we shall be,
till God shall make us like himself, (1 John 3:2.
It is also worthy of our notice, that these words do not imply that there will be equality among the children of God, after they have been admitted to the heavenly glory, but rather that to each is promised that degree of honor to which he has been set apart by the eternal purpose of God.
Matthew 20:24.And when the ten heard it. (660) Luke appears to refer this dispute to a different time. But any one who shall carefully examine that twenty-second chapter will plainly see that discourses delivered at different times are there brought together, without any regard to order. The dispute about the primacy, therefore which Luke mentions, flowed from this source, that the sons of Zebedee aspired to the first places in the kingdom of Christ. And yet the displeasure of the rest was far from being well-founded; for, while the foolish ambition of the two disciples was so severely blamed, that they retired from Christ with disgrace, what injury was it to the other ten, that those disciples foolishly wished what they did not obtain? (661) For though they had a good right to be offended at the ambition of those disciples, yet when it was put down they ought to have been satisfied. But our Lord intended to seize on this occasion for laying open a disease which was lurking within them; for there was not one of them who would willingly yield to others, but every one secretly cherished within himself the expectation of the primacy; in consequence of which, they envy and dispute with one another, and yet in all there reigns wicked ambition. And if this fault was found to be natural to uneducated men of ordinary rank, and if it broke out on a slight occasion, and almost without any occasion at all, how much more ought we to be on our guard, when there is abundance of fuel to feed a concealed flame? We see then how ambition springs up in any man who has great power and honors, and sends out its flames far and wide, unless the spirit of modesty, coming from heaven, extinguish the pride which has a firm hold of the nature of man.
25.You know that the princes of the Gentiles rule over them. It is first said that Christ called them to him, that he might reprove them in private; and next we learn from it that, being ashamed of their ambition, they did not openly complain, but that a sort of hollow murmur arose, and every one secretly preferred himself to the rest. He does not explain generally how deadly a plague ambition is, but simply warns them, that nothing is more foolish than to fight about nothing. (662) He shows that the primacy, which was the occasion of dispute among them, has no existence in his kingdom. Those persons, therefore, who extend this saying indiscriminately to all the godly are mistaken; for Christ only takes occasion from the present occurrence to show that it is absurd in the apostles to dispute about the degree of power and honor in their own rank, because the office of teaching, to which they were appointed, has no resemblance to the governments of the world. I do acknowledge that this doctrine applies both to private persons and to kings and magistrates; for no man deserves to be reckoned one of Christ’s flock, unless he has made such proficiency under the teacher of humility, as to claim nothing for himself, but condescend to cultivate brotherly love. This is, no doubt, true; but the design of Christ was, as I have said, to distinguish between the spiritual government of his Church and the empires of the world, that the apostles might not look for the favors of a court; for in proportion as any of the nobles is loved by kings, he rises to wealth and distinction. But Christ appoints pastors of his Church, not to rule, but to serve
This reflects the error of the Anabaptists, who exclude kings and magistrates from the Church of God, because Christ declares (663) that they are not like his disciples; though the comparison is here made not between Christians and ungodly men, but between the nature of their offices. Besides, Christ did not look so much at the persons of men as at the condition of his Church. For it was possible that one who was governor of a village or of a city might, in a case of urgent necessity, discharge also the office of teaching; but Christ satisfied himself with explaining what belongs to the apostolic office and what is at variance with it.
But a question arises, Why does Christ, who appointed separate orders in his Church, disown in this passage all degrees? For he appears to throw them all down, or, at least, to place them on a level, so that not one rises above the rest. But natural reason prescribes a very different method; and Paul, when describing the government of the Church, (Ephesians 4:11,) enumerates the various departments of the ministry, in such a manner as to make the rank of apostleship higher than the office of pastors. Timothy and Titus also, are unquestionably enjoined by him to exercise authoritative superintendence over others, according to the command of God. I reply, if we carefully examine the whole, it will be found that even kings do not rule justly or lawfully, unless they serve; but that the apostolic office differs from earthly government in this respect, that the manner in which kings and magistrates serve does not prevent them from governing, or indeed from rising above their subjects in magnificent pomp and splendor. Thus David, Hezekiah, and others of the same class, while they were the willing servants of all, used a scepter, a crown, a throne, and other emblems of royalty. But the government of the Church admits nothing of this sort; for Christ allowed the pastors nothing more than to be ministers, and to abstain entirely from the exercise of authority. Here, to it ought to be observed, that the discourse relates to the thing itself rather than to the disposition. Christ distinguishes between the apostles and the rank of kings, not because kings have a right to act haughtily, but because the station of royalty is different from the apostolic office. While, therefore, both ought to be humble, it is the duty of the apostles always to consider what form of government the Lord has appointed for his Church.
As to the words which Matthew employs, the princes of the Gentiles rule over them, Luke conveys the same import by saying, they are called benefactors; which means, that kings possess great wealth and abundance, in order that they may be generous and bountiful. For though kings have greater delight in their power, and a stronger desire that it should be formidable, than that it should be founded in the consent of the people, still they desire the praise of munificence. (664) Hence, too, they take the name in the Hebrew language,
26.It shall not be so among you. There can be no doubt that Christ refers to the foolish imagination by which he saw that the apostles were deceived. “It is foolish and improper in you,” he says, “to imagine a kingdom, which is unsuitable to me; and therefore, if you desire to serve me faithfully, you must resort to a different method, which is, that each of you may strive to serve others.” (666) But whoever wishes to be great among you, let him be your servant. These words are employed in an unusual sense; for ambition does not allow a man to be devoted, or, rather, to be subject to his brethren. Abject flattery, I do acknowledge, is practiced by those who aspire to honors, but nothing is farther from their intention than to serve But Christ’s meaning is not difficult to be perceived. As every man is carried away by a love of himself, he declares that this passion ought to be directed to a different object. Let the only greatness, eminence, and rank, which you desire, be, to submit to your brethren; and let this be your primacy, to be the servants of all.
28.As the Son of man Christ confirms the preceding doctrine by his own example; for he voluntarily took upon himself the form of a servant, and emptied himself, as Paul also informs us, (Philippians 2:7.) To prove more clearly how far he was from indulging in lofty views, he reminds them of his death. “Because I have chosen you to the honor of being near me, you are seized by a wicked ambition to reign. But I — by whose example you ought to regulate your life — came not to exalt myself, or to claim any royal dignity. On the contrary, I took upon me, along with the mean and despised form of the flesh, the ignominy of the cross. If it be objected, that Christ was:
exalted by the Father, in order that every knee might bow to him,
it is easy to reply, that what he now says refers to the period of his humiliation. Accordingly, Luke adds, that he lived among them, as if he were a servant: not that in appearance, or in name, or in reality, he was inferior to them, (for he always wished to be acknowledged as their Master and Lord,) but because from the heavenly glory he descended to such meekness, that he submitted to bear their infirmities. Besides, it ought to be remembered that a comparison is here made between the greater and the less, as in that passage,
If I, who am your Master and Lord, have washed your feet, much more ought you to perform this service to one another,
And to give his life a ransom for many. Christ mentioned his death, as we have said, in order to withdraw his disciples from the foolish imagination of an earthly kingdom. But it is a just and appropriate statement of its power and results, when he declares that his life is the price of our redemption; whence it follows, that we obtain an undeserved reconciliation with God, the price of which is to be found nowhere else than in the death of Christ. Wherefore, this single word overturns all the idle talk of the Papists about their abominable satisfactions Again, while Christ has purchased us by his death to be his property, this submission, of which he speaks, is so far from diminishing his boundless glory, that it greatly increases its splendor. The word many (
Matthew 20:29.And while they were departing from Jericho. Osiander has resolved to display his ingenuity by making four blind men out of one. But nothing can be more frivolous than this supposition. Having observed that the Evangelists differ in a few expressions, he imagined that one blind man received sight when they were entering into the city, and that the second, and other two, received sight when Christ was departing from it. But all the circumstances agree so completely, that no person of sound judgment will believe them to be different narratives. Not to mention other matters, when Christ’s followers had endeavored to put the first to silence, and saw him cured contrary to their expectation, would they immediately have made the same attempt with the other three? But it is unnecessary to go into particulars, from which any man may easily infer that it is one and the same event which is related.
But there is a puzzling contradiction in this respect, that Matthew and Mark say that the miracle was performed on one or on two blind men, when Christ had already departed from the city; while Luke relates that it was done before he came to the city. Besides, Mark and Luke speak of not more than one blind man, while Matthew mentions two. But as we know that it frequently occurs in the Evangelists, that in the same narrative one passes by what is mentioned by the others, and, on the other hand, states more clearly what they have omitted, it ought not to be looked upon as strange or unusual in the present passage. My conjecture is, that, while Christ was approaching to the city, the blind man cried out, but that, as he was not heard on account of the noise, he placed himself in the way, as they were departing from the city, (669) and then was at length called by Christ. And so Luke, commencing with what was true, does not follow out the whole narrative, but passes over Christ’s stay in the city; while the other Evangelists attend only to the time which was nearer to the miracle. There is probability in the conjecture that, as Christ frequently, when he wished to try the faith of men, delayed for a short time to relieve them, so he subjected this blind man to the same scrutiny.
The second difficulty may be speedily removed; for we have seen, on a former occasion, that Mark and Luke speak of one demoniac as having been cured, while Matthew, as in the present instance, mentions two, (Matthew 8:28; Mark 5:2; Luke 8:27 (670)) And yet this involves no contradiction between them; but it may rather be conjectured with probability, that at first one blind man implored the favor of Christ, and that another was excited by his example, and that in this way two persons received sight Mark and Luke speak of one only, either because he was better known, or because in him the demonstration of Christ’s power was not less remarkable than it was in both. It certainly appears to have been on account of his having been extensively known that he was selected by Mark, who gives both his own name and that of his father: Bartimeus, son of Timeus By doing so, he does not claim for him either illustrious descent or wealth; for he was a beggar of the lowest class. Hence it appears that the miracle was more remarkable in his person, because his calamity had been generally known. This appears to me to be the reason why Mark and Luke mention him only, and say nothing about the other, who was a sort of inferior appendage. But Matthew, who was an eye-witness, (671) did not choose to pass by even this person, though less known.
(670) See Harmony, vol. 1 p. 428.
30.Have mercy on me, O Lord. I stated, a little ago, that there was at first but one who cried out, but the other was induced by a similar necessity to join him. They confer on Christ no ordinary honor, when they request him to have mercy, and relieve them; for they must have been convinced that he had in his power the assistance or remedy which they needed. But their faith is still more clearly exhibited by their acknowledgment of him as Messiah, to whom we know that the Jews gave this designation, Son of David They therefore apply to Christ, not only as some Prophet, but as that person whom God had promised to be the only Author of salvation. The cry proved the ardor of the desire; for, though they knew that what they said exposed them to the hatred of many, who were highly displeased with the honor done to Christ, their fear was overcome by the ardor of desire, so that they did not refrain, on this account, from raising their voice aloud.
31.And the multitude reproved them. It is surprising that the disciples of Christ, who follow him through a sense of duty and of respect, should wish to drive wretched men from the favor of Christ, and, so far as lies in them, to prevent the exercise of his power. But it frequently happens that the greater part of those who profess the name of Christ, instead of inviting us to him, rather hinder or delay our approach. If Satan endeavored to throw obstacles in the way of two blind men, by means of pious and simple persons, who were induced by some sentiments of religion to follow Christ, how much more will he succeed in accomplishing it by means of hypocrites and traitors, if we be not strictly on our guard. Perseverance is therefore necessary to overcome every difficulty, and the more numerous the obstacles are which Satan throws in the way, the more powerfully ought we to be excited to earnestness in prayer, as we see that the blind men redoubled their cry
32.What do you wish that I should do to you? He gently and kindly asks what they desire; for he had determined to grant their requests. There is no reason to doubt that they prayed by a special movement of the Holy Spirit; for, as the Lord does not intend to grant to all persons deliverance from bodily diseases, so neither does he permit them simply to pray for it. A rule has been prescribed for us what we ought to ask, and in what manner, and to what extent; and we are not at liberty to depart from that rule, unless the Lord, by a secret movement of the Spirit, suggest to us some special prayer, which rarely happens. Christ puts the question to them, not for their sake as individuals, but for the sake of all the people; for we know how the world swallows God’s benefits without perceiving them, unless they are stimulated and aroused. Christ, therefore, by his voice, awakens the assembled crowd to observe the miracle, as he awakens them shortly afterwards by a visible sign, when he opens their eyes by touching them.
34.And Jesus, moved with compassion, etc.
Matthew 20:34.And followed him. This was an expression of gratitude, (673) when the blind men became followers of Christ; for, though it is uncertain how long they discharged this duty, yet it showed a grateful mind, that they presented themselves to many, in that journey, as mirrors of the grace of Christ. Luke adds, that the people gave praise to God, which tends to prove the certainty of the miracle.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 20". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20