25 July 2017

Matthew 20:20-28

“But 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


Small gifts, compliments or submissive gestures can be dangerous - it could be that someone is about to ask a favour! There is a curious contradiction in this passage, the mother kneels and asks a favour, but what she wants is power for her sons and in the end Jesus commends those who do not have power but those who serve. The desire for power runs down through human history.

Jesus' whole ministry was a rejection of traditional models of power; clearly he teaches and acts with authority, but in terms of worldly power he has very little. In Jesus kingdom greatness is associated with service, just as he always gave of himself and served even to the point of giving his life. So the request of the mother and her sons demonstrates for us that they really had not grasped what Jesus was about or the way his teaching challenged the values they still held. The other ten disciples are perhaps not much better as they are indignant with James and John, and we suspect from Jesus' reaction that they resent the request not that they have understood what Jesus is trying to teach. It must have been all the more worrying for Jesus that this seems to be not long before he goes to Jerusalem for the final time and to his death. (As a teacher, I find it particularly worrying if students don't understand something fundamental just before the final exam!)

The disciples also misunderstand what the 'final exam' will be. "To drink the cup" meant to accept your destined suffering, and Jesus is trying to point out to them that they really don't understand how it is going to end. They are thinking in terms of earthly power, he is thinking about suffering. In his last free minutes in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46) he prayed that the cup of suffering would pass from him, "yet not what I want but what you want" (v. 39). His whole life honoured the Father, culminating in the gift of his life. He had to risk that afterwards his disciples really will understand.

To Ponder

  • In what ways can you give esteem to those who serve rather than those who hold earthly power?
  • In every generation Jesus thinking on greatness is a challenge, how can you resist favouritism, mates' rates or other attempts to misuse relationships to gain advantage?

Bible notes author

June Feather

June Feather is a manager and Religious Studies teacher in a sixth form college. She preaches in the Cleveland and Danby Circuit, and feels privileged to live in such a lovely area with its country and coastal walks.