The Sons of Zebedee

The Gospel reading on Weds March 15 was from Matthew 20 – It’s about the mother of the Sons of Zebedee requesting that James and John sit on Jesus’ right and left when He comes into His kingdom.

Jesus’ response is “You do not know what you are asking… Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

In 2015 this passage really impressed itself upon me as I was in the midst of my Lenten Journey – so I aim to capture some of those reflections here.

On earth and in earthly striving people wish to have seats of honor – if they cannot be the person at the top then they want to be as close to the person at the top as possible. The status affords them luxuries, ease of life, whatever they want. But that is how earthly kingdoms operate. How great (and mysterious) is the Kingdom of Heaven!

In Jesus’ life he was striving to enter God’s Kingdom and in order to get there he was going to be “condemned to death… mocked and scourged and crucified (Mt 20: 19)” He knew the path he had to take and he sought the cup that his Father was going to give him to drink. Jesus’ Kingdom is not one bound up in earthly conceptions of a kingdom. For what other person would seek to serve a kingdom where they personally had to suffer and die?

And so… To seek to sit at Jesus’ right and left – What would that entail? It is the absolute opposite of everything the world treasures. With the place of importance comes not great power or authority as conceived by the world (control of/over others) or with great comfort (such as sitting idly on your hands and letting others do anything you don’t want to do) but instead it comes with constant hard work for the Kingdom of God.

Is the path to the right and left of Jesus one of suffering? I do not know. But I can only assume harsh trials, tribulations, and great suffering marks that path — not as great as Jesus’s suffering perhaps, but suffering — not ease, comfort, and complacency. To earn such a seat one does not waltz into it and get to have it just because you like Jesus and Jesus likes you.

To “sit” at Jesus’ right and left will require much action and intercession – Whoever it is will likely need to intercede constantly, do God’s work incessantly, and work to bring the Kingdom of God to earth’s kingdoms at every moment – called to grow each person’s heart towards Jesus at every moment. Seek no place of honor unless you are approaching it with a Christ-like approach and you understand what such a place entails.

The mother of the sons of Zebedee was caught up in an earthly understanding of God’s Kingdom and she wanted that kind of power for her kids. But the power that will come with whoever sits in those seats will be power focused solely on serving God, not on serving oneself.

God calls us to seek Him, to serve Him, and to live for Him. We each succeed and fail as we live. But one who is in such a place of honor in heaven will need to serve God perfectly, or at least as close to perfectly now and then perfectly in heaven. Who among us is able to serve God perfectly? And also these two people must not only serve God perfectly but be so strong (and strong by relying on God’s own strength and grace) so as to never falter as they are commanded to do such important work for God’s Kingdom.

To think of the seats beside Jesus we need to not think with a worldly view, but instead approach it with a heavenly view – and I must say I am also assuming those in those seats are there while the earth is still as it is [like it is today, not like it will all be at the second coming] with people needing intercessors and God needing perfect servants to bring about His Kingdom on earth.

Another striking aspect of this Gospel reading hit me this year – it is found in verse 23 “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” As we each strive to follow Jesus we may even do a great job – maybe well enough to become a Saint by drinking of the cup. But still that doesn’t mean we will achieve one of the two seats. So we should strive for heaven and that is it. Achieving the Kingdom of God is the goal – nothing more should be sought because God is enough. That should bring us comfort and peace – if we do a great job of serving God as “little Christs” then the most perfect reward is God’s Kingdom. How sweet is the Kingdom of God! How incomprehensible His plan, His Kingdom, and His Mercy. Accept that you do not understand it and understand that you don’t need to understand it — because it is of God and that is enough – it is beautiful and sweet and so beyond our wildest imaginings.

Perhaps you will be the one who sits at the right or the left? If it is you are you ready to serve God as He will have you serve Him? Seek not the place of honor unless you fully understand the cup from which you drink.

Matthew 20: 20-28  The Request of James and John.20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. 21He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” 22Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking.* Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” 23He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left [, this] is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24d When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. 25But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. 26But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; 27e whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. 28f Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom* for many.”

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