25 July 2012Matthew 20:20-28
"It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave." (vv. 26-27)
Today's passage depicts the request for glory by Jesus' disciples followed by Jesus' radical teaching on service. It comes directly after Jesus' third passion prediction in Matthew's Gospel (20:17-19), and so sets up an implicit contrast between Jesus' willingness to suffer and the disciples' desire for greatness. The disciples clearly have a lot to learn.
It was the mother of the "sons of Zebedee" (v. 20) who comes to Jesus, asking that her sons - James and John - could sit at his right and left hand when the kingdom comes. Turning to James and John, Jesus points out they don't know what they are asking. Being with Jesus means following the way of the cross, 'drinking the cup' (v. 22), and Jesus recognises that James and John will indeed suffer for the gospel. James, after all, was martyred (Acts 12:2), but John too faced later persecution. The actual place they will sit in the kingdom, Jesus explains, is only his Father's to grant.
The second part of the passage begins with the exasperated anger of the other Apostles with the two brothers. Who did they think they were, asking Jesus such a thing? Their anger leads to Jesus' teaching about service. In contrast to the gentiles (non Jews), Jesus instructs his disciples to serve from below rather than rule from above. True greatness comes from service, and to be "first" means being last. Such service is grounded in Jesus' own calling: the "Son of Man" - a term Jesus often uses of himself in the passion predictions (eg Matthew 20:18) - came to serve and to "give his life a ransom for many" (v. 28). His sacrifice enables our service.
Today when we remember James the apostle, it is helpful to remember that he too was subject to pride and envy, and yet Jesus chose him as his own. Learning the lesson of radical service, he was also one of the Church's first martyrs.
- How is Jesus' teaching on service reflected in the Church? And in your church in particular?
- To what extent is the 'way of the cross' always a part of Christian life?
- How can focusing on Jesus help you become a better 'servant' of others?