“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him. ‘What is it you want?’ he asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’” (Matthew 20:20-21 NIV)
I think that as parents we can relate to Zebedee’s wife’s request of Jesus. Who wouldn’t want to see their children excel and be given places of importance with those they work with? Many believe, based on a comparison of the lists of the women at the cross when Jesus was crucified, that Zebedee’s wife was Salome, who was also the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. If this is the case then we can possibly see why she approached Jesus, especially if he was her sister’s son.
What she was asking for were the two most important positions, at the right and the left of Jesus. She understood Jesus’ teaching to indicate there was a kingdom coming. She undoubtedly equated this with the Messiah and thought of it as a physical kingdom. It would seem this was the idea that the apostles had as well, as can be seen in their question of Jesus in Acts 1. Notice Jesus’ reply to her.
“‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’ When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.” (Matthew 20:22-24)
She did not understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom – and neither did her sons. Again, they were thinking in terms of a physical kingdom. They believed they could drink the cup that Jesus would drink, the ‘cup’ referring to the portion assigned to Jesus. In their minds they were probably indicating that they were ready for more responsibilities. But Jesus was talking about what would happen to him – could they endure what he was about to endure?
Notice that Jesus confirmed that they would drink from his cup. Think about that. The first of the apostles to die was James (see Acts 12). But it wasn’t for Jesus to give away positions of authority in his kingdom.
This request caused the other apostles to be upset – they undoubtedly thought that these two were trying to elevate themselves over the rest. Jesus used this to teach them more about what it meant to be in his kingdom.
“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”(Matthew 20:25-28)
What a lesson! This needs to be learned today as much as it did two thousand years ago. It isn’t about having authority over others, about ‘being in charge’, but it is all about learning to be a servant. If they wanted to be great in Jesus’ kingdom they needed to learn to serve – in fact, to learn to be the slave of the rest. And Jesus is our example in this.
May we learn the true blessing of serving and not want others to serve us.
Image by Hans Braxmeier from pixabay.com
Readings for next week: Matthew 19-23