Matthew 20:17-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection
17 While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; 19 then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
The Request of the Mother of James and John
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”[a] They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Lent is traditionally a season of going without and a time of turning inward. Today, we reflect on a popular passage of scripture that begins with Jesus taking the disciples aside, once again, and pointing out what is coming for Him. The once again emphasis is my own because I suspect Jesus knew his disciples weren’t quite there with Him yet. And He wanted them to get the cosmic impact of what was about to happen. I can imagine the chitter chatter along the road among them when all of sudden Jesus says, “Hey guys, stop here just a minute. I know I’ve said this before but I really need you guys to get this. I’m going to be betrayed and judged and condemned to death. Do you understand this? I’m going to be mocked and flogged and crucified. But, I will rise again. Please understand what’s coming.”
And in the middle of this roadside conclave comes the mother of James and John who, when asked, requests that her sons are able to sit nearest to the throne with Jesus, one on His left and one on His right. Did she know this Kingdom she spoke of would involve Jesus’ death? Or did she think it was a kingdom that would be won by conquering the Roman empire? Did she secretly feel her sons had done more, worked harder, understood Jesus’ teachings better than the others? Did she think if her sons were that close in, that she would be as well?
Of course, this made the other disciples angry but I don’t think we get the sense here their anger was due to the request itself being out of bounds. I think their anger was due to fear of losing their own, hoped for places at Jesus’ right and left hand.
What an incredible contrast we see here: Jesus begins this conversation by telling them He’s about to give His very life as a servant and the disciples are continuiing the conversation by measuring who would be the greatest as co-rulers.
I imagine Jesus was rather exasperated at this point and so he artfully, even Jujutsu-like, uses the thrust of the disciples forceful desires against them so they can finally see this Kingdom was going to be different, so much so, that if they wanted to be great they’d have to become slaves to servanthood. And like Jesus, the disciples (and us) have to give their very lives and become servants.
Lent is a season of going without in order to turn inward. Imagine you see Jesus talking privately to His disciples as you come upon them on the side of the road. As you approach, you hear this proclamation that Jesus will now be overseeing this new Kingdom and Jesus turns to you and ask you, “What do you want?” Considering our reality today is that Jesus Kingdom really is happening right now, what do you want? Consider journaling your reply.
We constantly measure ourselves and others in a myriad of ways. What are some ways in which you can ‘go without’ measuring yourself and others during the remainder of this season of Lent?