25 July 2016

Matthew 20:20-28

“Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’” (v. 22)

Psalm: Psalm 126


It is only natural to want the best for your children. So it is perhaps understandable that "the mother of the sons of Zebedee" (v. 20) comes to Jesus to ask if he would grant her children a special place of honour in the coming kingdom. Whether this is what actually happened, or whether - as in the Mark's Gospel (Mark 10:35-45) - James and John make the request themselves, Jesus directs his response to the 'boys'. In the context of the Gospel, the ensuing discussion allows Jesus to stress again his approaching death, but also to underline the very nature of the kingdom that he seeks to establish.

It is a kingdom in which honour comes through humility.

It is a kingdom in which status is understood in terms of service, and in which service is often delivered through sacrifice.

Clearly, the major themes in these verses are service and sacrifice, but we note too, a subtext to the matter of status: it threatened to disturb the harmony within the group (verse 24). Jesus' disciples had travelled with him now for three years, sharing many highs and lows along the way. They have listened to him teach; they have watched as lives have been transformed through his servant ministry; they have shared in the great faith adventure. And yet, the harmony of the team is disturbed as soon as some members believe they should be treated with special merit and honour.

The desire for special status has disturbed, distracted and dismayed the group. How easy it is to cause upset and trouble in communities - even communities of faith - when we think we should be treated as 'the special one'.

To Ponder

  • Was there a time in your life when you felt under pressure to meet the expectations of others? What challenges did this bring?
  • In your experience, to what extent is the Church hierarchical? Is this necessary, a necessary evil or unnecessary? Why?
  • Who has demonstrated a servant ministry for you today? And how have you been a servant to someone else?

Bible notes author

The Revd Mark Dunn-Wilson

The Revd Mark Dunn-Wilson is currently the superintendent minister of the Truro Circuit in central Cornwall where he has served for ten years and still going strong. Prior to Cornwall, Mark was a presbyter in the Liverpool District for 14 years.