According to Jewish law, property should remain within a family if possible. If a Jewish person lost his or her share of the land through debt or by some other means, a near relative (if there was one) was supposed to buy the property back. This person, because of his or her close relationship to the one who had lost the property, was a “kinsman,” and if he was willing and able to purchase the property and restore it to the family, he became a “kinsman-redeemer.” In some cases, in which there was no male heir to inherit the property after the owner’s death, the duty of the kinsman extended to marrying the widow in order to raise up heirs.
Learning to serve others rather than themselves was a difficult lesson for the disciples. At the start of Matthew 18, the disciples were arguing about who should be greatest in Christ’s kingdom. To them, as for us, a kingdom meant pomp and power, not a cross. They assumed Jesus was going to take over the throne of His father David, and they were vying to see who would stand closest to that throne, exercise the greatest influence, and receive the greatest honor.
“And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes and they will condemn him to death and will deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt.20.17-34)
Why is it that, in Matthew 20, the owner of the vineyard gave those who had labored only one hour the same amount as those who had labored all day? Was it not because he knew they needed the denarius?
In Matthew 20, Peter wanted to know what he and the others would get for their discipleship, which they considered a major contribution on their part. But when Jesus answered as He did, He was teaching that although the disciples would receive rewards for their service, anything they received from God – whether rewards for service or eternal life itself – was a gift flowing from the grace of God only. Sola gratia! God owes us nothing, not even a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel.
When Peter reacted to the unbelief of the rich young ruler by reminding Jesus that he and the other disciples had left everything to follow Jesus but were still wondering, “What then will we have?” Jesus answered by promising Peter rewards. “You who have followed me will … sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” However, God will be no man’s debtor.