Eugene Peterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. This passage describes two disciples (and a mother) who totally misunderstand Jesus’ message, as we often do.
Matthew 20: 20-28
“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.'”
In this passage, Jesus deals with a power play orchestrated by an ambitious mother, Salome, and her sons. We aren’t told if the sons enlisted mom’s support or if it was her plan. One of the Gospel accounts says the mother did the speaking, but that it was at the sons’ instigation. However the plan was concocted, all three of them came to Jesus with this greedy and vainglorious request.
Jesus turns directly to the sons with the pertinent question, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Note that this passage follows directly after Jesus tells the disciples for the third time that he would be handed over to the chief priest, mocked, spit upon, killed – and resurrected. This was the cup to which he was referring. Obviously these two weren’t listening. Or perhaps they thought their leader and friend was being overly pessimistic. Or maybe they were listening and had decided that this was the best time to ask for their place in the kingdom. To me their answer is almost flippant, as in, “Of course we can.” (I wonder if they looked back at this scene during or after the crucifixion and shuddered. We do know that James was the first martyr and John the last, so eventually they understood the meaning of “the cup.”)
Notice the response of the other disciples to this power play. They were indignant. Maybe they were angry about the power move. Maybe they were jealous that they didn’t think of it first. Maybe they were legitimately upset that the brothers were prideful enough to say they could handle the life Jesus lived. Jesus had some words for these disciples as well: power is not the point; service is the goal. And he demonstrated that throughout his life – and in his death.
♥ What is your likely response to someone who manipulates to gain power, or assumes control that doesn’t belong to them? Would you be able to say calmly to yourself (and to that someone) “God is taking care of this,” as Jesus did. The next time you observe or are affected by a power play, be prepared to give it to God instead of reacting in fear or anger.
♥ Are you ever tempted to throw your weight around (even subtly)? Does power or being in control sometimes go to your head? Talk about this behavior in your family. Discuss the temptation to take advantage of each other or your friends just because you can. When this tempts you, do the reverse; find a way to serve instead.
♥ Jesus came to give his life as a ransom. Who in your circle of influence is being “held hostage” in some way – by poverty, by abuse, by lack of education, by fear, by an addiction, by feelings of depression or worthlessness, by loneliness, by sin? How can you give your life to them? Once you have found a “hostage” and a way to help, do it.