Friday

Matthew 20:20-28 Friday 25 July 2014


Background

Matthew chapter 20 occurs at the veryend of Jesus' ministry just before the triumphal entry intoJerusalem. The cross and the passion are looming large on thehorizon and Jesus foretells his death and resurrection for thethird time in Matthew's Gospel in this chapter.

The request of the mother of James andJohn is a tricky story to analyse. The stereotypical approach is toread this as a story of a pushy 'Jewish mother' who wants to makesure that her boys will get the best seats in the kingdom. Theremay be some merit in this. However it seems to be an increasinglydoubtful reading.

First, it seems clear that the sons ofZebedee are present when the request is made, for they answer forthemselves when questioned (verse 22). So it is not fair toidentify a pushy mother. The sons are complicit in the request.

Second, it is notable that there is norebuke from Jesus to James or John or their mother. Interestingly,it is the other disciples who become angry when they hear of it butJesus gently rebukes them for this.

Third, Jesus points to a newunderstanding of greatness, by means of service and servitude. Inother words, he seems to suggest that if James and John or any ofthe disciples wish to sit at his right hand, the way to achievethat is not by lobbying but by radical service to God by means ofservice to each other. Whoever wishes to be great among you must beyour servant (verse 28).

On this reading, then, Jesus far fromrebuking James and John for their ambition to sit at his righthand, instead encourages that ambition. Indeed, given the way thatJames and John are depicted in the Gospels as constant companionsof Jesus and part of his inner circle it should not be assumed thatthey want to be at Jesus' side for reasons of power, but rather forreasons of love. This is why they unhesitatingly affirm that theywill drink whatever cup Jesus drinks.

As a consequence Jesus points them toa more effective and Christ-like way of achieving that godlyambition, by means of godly and radical servanthood, which Jesushimself models, ultimately in the cross. The irony, of course, isthat those who are either side of Jesus when he comes into hiskingdom are also on crosses (Matthew 27:38, see also Luke23:39-43). Tradition declares that both James and John weremartyred.


To Ponder

  • What ambitions of faith do you hold? Are they sufficientlybig?
  • Godly ambition is easily mistaken as the product of vanity andpride. Are there ways to be able to pursue godly ambitions withoutalienating those who might otherwise be supportive of those veryambitions? What might these be?
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