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“And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?” (Matthew 20:11-15).
We have two accounts in the New Testament of James and John — the Sons of Thunder — bucking for position in the kingdom. In Mark 10, they asked this for themselves.
“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory” (Mark 10:35-37).
In the account in Matthew, we see their mother with them, asking this on their behalf.
“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom” (Matthew 20:20, 21).
I just find this funny. “Let’s get Mama to help!” 🙂 Based on the exactness of Jesus’ response in these two passages, it’s likely that these two events were one and the same. And they had no idea what they were asking.
Without question, James and John were not the only disciples hoping for prominence in the kingdom to come. Every one of them had given up much to follow Jesus. And hadn’t they stuck to His side, and worked hard, and endured the wrath of the Pharisees along with Him? But in this brief story, Jesus is preparing them for a shock to come, when, after His death, resurrection and ascension, the kingdom was opened up to the Gentiles. Men who had not given up as much to follow Jesus, who had not worked hard, and who had not endured the wrath of the Pharisees (because the Pharisees didn’t even see them as humans, let alone a challenge to Judaism), were offered the same salvation as Peter, James, John, and all the rest of the disciples.
The last words of Jesus on this subject were:
“So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen” (Matthew 20:16).
This past September Dave and I went, as we do every year, to the Northwest Pastors’ Conference at Calvary Fellowship in Mountlake Terrace. One of our favorite teachers, David Guzik, came again this year. He’s such a clear-speaking teacher, and so easy to absorb. And often in the matter-of-factness of his speech, he gives us a simple statement that is both weighty and profound. This year he said this:
“God will never be less than fair to anyone, but He reserves the right to be more than fair to anyone He chooses.”
And that’s the best commentary I’ve heard on this passage.