Wednesday 25 July 2018

Bible Book:

“What do you want?” (v. 21)

Matthew 20:20-28 Wednesday 25 July 2018

Psalm: Psalm 126


Today the Church celebrates the Apostle James. This is a day of great celebration in Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and of joyful rest for many who have walked miles to get there. The relics of St James have been the focus of pilgrimage across Europe for over 1,100 years – thousands and thousands of people have given a significant amount of their lives in honour of this disciple of Jesus and apostle of the Early Church. Maybe this is fitting, as it is from the passage which is his major appearance in the Gospels that we know how following Jesus leads to eternal honour, and how it does not.

The question about the throne room in heaven is yet another example of the repeated difficulty the disciples, and in this case, also their mother have in hearing and heeding Jesus’ teaching. In Matthew’s Gospel there have been several recent reminders to the disciples that Jesus’ mission will not follow worldly expectations with regards to status – he tells them “many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Matthew 19:30) and then to make sure in Matthew 20:16, “the last will be first, and the first will be last”. When the question of ‘reward’ for the disciples was first addressed, Jesus says that, “at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Maybe this is what has confused James, John and their mother when they look for preferential seating even within the 12; their approach prompts Jesus to make clear what being a disciple means.

It will mean drinking from the same cup as Jesus will (verse 23) – the cup of suffering is an image used in the Old Testament (eg Isaiah 51:17-23). The words Jesus then uses are looking forward to the cross – “Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left” (Matthew 27:38).

With this phrase Jesus points clearly to his crucifixion being the place of honour, the throne, for those who follow him. James and John are confident they can drink this cup, and Jesus agrees. At the point of Jesus’ arrest and then at his crucifixion, like the other disciples they desert him (Matthew 26:56). However, they are restored and take up leadership as apostles in the Early Church. We know that James knew the fulfilment of Jesus’ confidence that he would drink the cup of suffering from the simple report of Acts 12:2 – where he was singled out for persecution and killed by King Herod.

Jesus ends his teaching here on suffering with “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v. 28). Disciples are called to follow Jesus’ example, but also to know that ultimately they cannot emulate him fully, but rather must trust in his sacrifice on the cross as the way by which we are set free. The pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela honour James by honouring Jesus and by allowing people to demonstrate symbolically their trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

To Ponder

  • Who would you identify as being “last” in our society? How can you serve them?
  • How honest can you be about the negative aspects of following Jesus? What have you lost? What cup of suffering do you face?
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