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This post is the last in a “dear diary” series from Matthew 20. The first three:
Friday, July 16 — 6:00 am
I’ve completed my study of Matthew 20:1-28. I journaled through this portion of the chapter as if I were James, the son of Zebedee. I enjoyed a great deal creatively working through the text — but more importantly I’ve learned a lot. The text looks like this in form:
- Matthew 20:1-16 — The Parable of the “Unfair” Vineyard Wages
- Matthew 20:17-19 — Jesus Predicts His Death
- Matthew 20:20-28 — Salome Acts Like the Parent in a Parent-Teacher Conference
I’m convinced Matthew ordered the events as he did, not necessarily because they happened so close together and in this exact order, but because he uses Jesus’ prediction of his own death as commentary on the stories resting on either side of it. The vineyard parable makes clear that the last will be first, and the request of the brothers Zebedee (by their mother) gives Jesus the opportunity to teach on becoming great through servanthood. Between these two stories, Matthew places Jesus’ perfect example of making himself servant, slave, and last of all. Here’s what I’ve learned:
The Parable of the “Unfair” Vineyard Wages
- God seeks and draws workers to him. It is not our responsibility to “apply.”
- God is honest and keeps his word.
- God is extremely gracious and gives us more than we deserve.
- Salvation is a gift that none of us have earned, and so, it is mercy and grace to each one of us, no matter our prior condition and situation.
Salome Acts Like a Parent in a Parent-Teacher Conference
- Human nature seeks a high position.
- Truly gaining a high position requires sacrifice of self. This is in direct conflict with our nature.
- We are called not to exercise authority, but to serve others.
Jesus Lowers Himself in This Text
- I think Jesus is the foreman in the vineyard story. He pays the workers as the vineyard owner desires. He is humbling himself to serve the Father.
- Jesus speaks of the cup of sacrifice he will drink in the story with James and John.
- Jesus again demonstrates his submission to the Father when he explains that the seats on either side of his thrown are not for him to give away.
- Jesus explains he came not to be served, but to serve. His life is meant to be given for others.
- In vv. 17-19, Jesus explains how he will humble himself to be placed in the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law. Ironic that salvation will come to the world through a King tossing aside his authority in order to be killed by those religious officials who are seeking authority. The juxtaposition of Jesus and the chief priests paints a beautiful picture of what to do and what not to do.
- In the end, Jesus will be raised to life. It’s interesting to me that Jesus tells his disciples the last will be first and the servants will be great. And this one line is the only testament in this chapter to such occurring in his life: “On the third day he will be raised to life!” But this one line is enough, as it’s forever changed our world.
- I’m afraid too many of our religious leaders today seek authority, popularity, and greatness — yet are unwilling to be servants. Oftentimes today, those most like Jesus are found cleaning up after events, stacking chairs, and teaching children’s classes — there’s no glory in those jobs.
- I live in a culture where it’s easy to serve others, because many Tanzanians are sitting around, waiting to be served. I’m struggling to serve responsibly, though, so I don’t encourage others to depend on handouts — but, rather, show them love through my own humility. I believe my service to others should prompt them to praise God (not me) and hopefully even to themselves serve others.
- I’ll be honest. I want Christianity to be about doing what’s right merely because it’s right. We would serve others, only because that’s what Jesus has done for us and it’s the right thing to do. BUT, Jesus continually offers rewards for our service — the last becoming first, higher wages than we deserve, greatness, etc. Jesus, in a way, plays on our selfish nature and our desire to obtain greatness. So, to some extent, it’s less about not desiring a high position, and more about desiring the right kind of high position.
- We make fun of the apostles’ inability to understand Jesus’ words. But how much worse is it that we understand the stories, but refuse to live by them?