Jesus loves all of us. He especially loved his two friends, John and James, sons of Zebedee. They were near him most of the time. Naturally their mother expected them to become executives in Christ’s kingdom. She knew they were good men, loyal sons.
In case Jesus was too busy to notice, Zebedee’s ambitious wife took the first opportunity to pop the question weighing on her mind: “In your new kingdom will my sons sit beside you?” She was hoping he would give them the best jobs. Mrs. Zebedee preceded her request by respectfully bowing, together with her sons, to Christ, the future ruler of the universe. The Zebedees didn’t assume their future appointment. They acknowledged that it wasn’t an automatic choice. The input of Jesus, the higher authority, would be the deciding factor.
Mrs. Zebedee was likely pondering what it would mean to her own status. People would eye her differently. Her acquaintances would point out, “There she goes! Didn’t she train her sons right? They are next to the king, the ruler of our land.” Perhaps she visualized her sons as Christ’s deputies with power, wielding considerable influence. She would keep informed and stand ready to give sound advice in this future kingdom.
Feeding the mind with this hope for promotion and position enters many parents’ thoughts. Often it begins when the children are much younger. Every mother has a legitimate right to wish the best for her children, although not all will strive for position in government. Early on, we mothers carefully read report cards to see if there’s any indication of superiority in our child’s status.
Promoting our own children becomes a means of elevating ourselves. If Susie gets the role of leading actress in a drama, we quickly point it out to all around us. “That’s my girl!” Similarly, we attend sports events with the constant hope that Tommy will be named All Star or Most Valuable Player.
Christ did not disparage people who assumed leadership and responsibility. Peter, James, and John received favoured insights on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Moses and Isaiah dramatically appeared. Hearing about this, who could blame their mother for wishing even more renown for her clan?
But Micah 6:8 tells us that our purpose in life is to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. As parents we want to encourage and train youngsters to lead, but only if they’re also willing to serve. “Forget your own fiefdom” says David Neff, editor of Christianity Today.
As mothers and fathers, it’s our duty to train our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). However, it’s ultimately their free will that allows them to choose their own path. Hopefully it will be to serve Christ, regardless of the cost and pain. If influence and prestige come, they are gratefully accepted. But sometimes trials abound for the sake of Christ’s kingdom, something that Mrs. Zebedee didn’t foresee.
Zebedee’s wife and sons approached Jesus courteously, bowing before him. But this didn’t sway Jesus’ response. He told them plainly, “You don’t know what you’re asking, and it isn’t up to me to grant favours.” God alone will determine what happens.
Christ then asked them a question, “Can you drink my cup?” meaning, “Are you prepared to suffer and endure as I do?” Their answer was simple and prophetic. “We will.” Christ continued, “It is service, not position, that’s most valuable.” Jesus did not slight or belittle honest people in leadership. It was the striving for status that he despised.
The disciples chided their colleagues for pushing the position. Had they already grasped Jesus’ teaching that service was more important than rank? Or were they secretly envious of the brothers’ closeness to Christ?
Fortunately, John and James accepted Christ’s words without any pouting. They clung to Jesus even though they were imprisoned and tortured. Their legacy of New Testament books still teaches us. It is a much better reward than what their mother asked for or envisioned.
Matthew 20:20-28 (link to BibleGatway.com)
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor 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.” “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. 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.”