Is thine we evil because I am good? - The Hebrews used the word evil, when applied to the eye, to denote one envious and malicious, Deuteronomy 15:9; Proverbs 23:6. The eye is called evil in such cases, because envy and malice show themselves directly in the eye. No passions are so fully expressed by the eye as these. “Does envy show itself in the eye? is thine eye so soon turned to express envy and malice because I have chosen to do good?”
Is it not lawful for me - As eternal life is the free gift of God, he has a right to give it in whatever proportions, at whatever times, and on whatever conditions he pleases.
Is thine eye evil - An evil eye among the Jews meant a malicious, covetous, or envious person.
Most commentators have different methods of interpreting this parable. Something was undoubtedly designed by its principal parts, besides the scope and design mentioned at the conclusion of the last chapter. The following, which is taken principally from the very pious Quesnel, may render it as useful to the reader as any thing else that has been written on it.
The Church is a vineyard, because it is a place of labor, where no man should be idle. Each of us is engaged to labor in this vineyard - to work out our salvation through him who worketh in us to will and to perform. Life is but a day, whereof childhood, or the first use of reason, is the day-break or first hour, Matthew 20:1, in which we receive the first Call.
The promise of the kingdom of glory is given to all those who are workers together with him, Matthew 20:2.
The second call is in the time of youth, which is most commonly idle, or only employed in dissipation and worldly cares, Matthew 20:3.
The third call is at the age of manhood.
The fourth, in the decline of life, Matthew 20:5.
The fifth, when sickness and the infirmities of life press upon us. How many are there in the world who are just ready to leave it, before they properly consider for what end they were brought into it! Still idle, still unemployed in the things which concern their souls; though eternal life is offered to them, and hell moving from beneath to meet them! Matthew 20:6.
Others consider the morning the first dawn of the Gospel; and the first call to be the preaching of John Baptist.
The second call, the public preaching of our Lord; and that of the apostles when they got an especial commission to the Jews, Matthew 10:5, Matthew 10:6, together with that of the seventy disciples mentioned Luke 10:1.
The third call, which was at mid-day, represents the preaching of the fullness of the Gospel after the ascension of Christ, which was the meridian of evangelic glory and excellence.
The fourth call represents the mission of the apostles to the various synagogues of the Jews, in every part of the world where they were scattered; the history of which is particularly given in the Acts of the Apostles.
The fifth call, or eleventh hour, represents the general call of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, when the unbelieving Jews were finally rejected.
What makes this interpretation the more likely is, that the persons who are addressed at Matthew 20:7, say, No man hath hired us, i.e. We never heard the voice of a prophet announcing the true God, nor of an apostle preaching the Lord Jesus, until now. The Jews could not use this as an argument for their carelessness about their eternal interests.
But Peter's question, “What shall we have therefore?” had revealed a spirit that uncorrected would unfit the disciples to be messengers for Christ; for it was the spirit of a hireling. While they had been attracted by the love of Jesus, the disciples were not wholly free from Pharisaism. They still worked with the thought of meriting a reward in proportion to their labor. They cherished a spirit of self-exaltation and self-complacency, and made comparisons among themselves. When one of them failed in any particular, the others indulged feelings of superiority. COL 396.1
Lest the disciples should lose sight of the principles of the gospel, Christ related to them a parable illustrating the manner in which God deals with His servants, and the spirit in which He desires them to labor for Him. COL 396.2
“The kingdom of heaven,” He said, “is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.” It was the custom for men seeking employment to wait in the market places, and thither the employers went to find servants. The man in the parable is represented as going out at different hours to engage workmen. Those who are hired at the earliest hours agree to work for a stated sum; those hired later leave their wages to the discretion of the householder. COL 396.3Read in context »
Repeatedly the Saviour says, “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” Jesus would have those who are engaged in His service, not eager for rewards, nor feel that they must receive compensation for all that they do. The Lord would have our minds run in a different channel; for He sees not as man sees. He does not judge by appearances, but estimates a man by the sincerity of his heart. CS 339.1
Those who have brought into their service the spirit of true sacrifice, of self-abasement, are the ones who will stand first at last. The laborers who were first hired, represented those who have an envious, self-righteous spirit, and claim that, for their services, preference should be given to them rather than to others. The householder said to the one who questioned his right to give more to others than to him, “Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?” I have kept my part of the agreement. CS 339.2Read in context »
Those who think more of their wages than of the privilege of being honored as a servant of the Lord, who take up their work in a self-congratulatory spirit because they are to receive wages, do not bring self-denial and self-sacrifice into their work. The last men hired believed the word of the householder, “Whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive” (Matthew 20:7). They knew that they would receive all that they deserved, and they were placed first because they brought faith into their work. If those who had labored during the whole day had brought a loving, trusting spirit into their work, they would have continued to be first. 2SM 182.1
The Lord Jesus estimates the work done by the spirit in which it is done. At a late hour He will accept penitent sinners who come to Him in humble faith and are obedient to His commandments. 2SM 182.2Read in context »
Many who are now the bitterest opponents of truth are acting up to their honest convictions of duty, but they will yet see the truth, and become its warm advocates. Those who now treat them with ridicule, who manifest a harsh spirit toward them, will fall under temptation, and bring reproach upon the cause of God, and cause the loss of souls through their indiscretion. Many who go into the field at the call made at the eleventh hour, will through the grace of Christ so present the truth, that they will be accounted first. VSS 241.2Read in context »