May 8, 2024

JD Wilhelm
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:20-28

The mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, comes to Jesus with her sons and asks him a favor. She asks Jesus to declare that her sons will be allowed to sit in positions of power in the kingdom. Every parent wants the best for their children. They desire for them to experience things they never had the chance to experience. Sometimes, this desire gets expressed in misguided ways, as Jesus makes clear. Jesus tells her and her sons that they cannot know what they ask. Turning to the sons, Jesus asks them if they can drink his cup, and they naively respond, “We are able.” This declaration is revealed clearly as bravado. Yet Jesus tells them they indeed will drink from his cup. When the other ten disciples hear Jesus’ response to James and John, they become upset with the brothers. They wanted those seats of power and honor for themselves.

Jesus overhears the arguing and calls the disciples to himself. The problem, he explains, is they are thinking the way the rulers of the world think. These rulers lord their power over those whom they rule. But this is different from the way it will be with them. Instead, they must be servants of one another. In fact, whoever wants to be first must become a slave of all, for this is how the Son of Man has come to them. This is the climax of Jesus’ instruction for how the church is to act in light of his cross and resurrection. If the church is defined by how we serve one another, then the church becomes, for the world, a viable alternative community. Jesus’ call to become servants creates a different political alternative represented in Christian discipleship. “It will not be so among you.” The disciples aren’t to act the way Gentile rulers do; they are to be something else. The church offers the world something otherwise unavailable: a community defined by how it serves one another rather than taking advantage of one another.