Matthew 20:17-28 (ESV)
Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time
17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 19 and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
A Mother's Request
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?”They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,[a] 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,[b] 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus speaks of his death to his disciples. Jesus explains to them that he will be handed over and condemned to death, flogged and crucified, and on the third day be raised. The mother of two of the disciples, James and John—possibly at their instigation— asks Jesus to give her sons favored places in his kingdom. Jesus answers that it isn’t his place to grant special seating in heaven. Maybe it was their mother’s idea, or maybe it was their own, but either way they wanted to be recognized as being greater than the other disciples, being special in a way the others weren’t. Of course, the others were upset when they heard the question.
Who among us does not know that feeling? Wishing that we could get just a little more recognition than someone else, hoping to have our name shine just a bit brighter than others, desiring to hear someone we looked up to admire and praise us more than others.
Jesus teaches that there is certainly much greatness in his kingdom. He tells his followers that being great in his eyes means serving others. For Jesus, being number one means putting yourself last, and working for the needs of others before your own. We modern day disciples often find this an easy thing to do—for those we are close to, those we love, those who can return the favor. Jesus calls us to greatness in ways that serve those we find not so easy to love also, those we would rather avoid, and those who could never repay us.
Let us put more energy and thought into being great as Jesus defines greatness than into jostling for earthly places of honor.
Lord Jesus, you not only teach us about servanthood, you became a servant. You not only teach us about putting others first, you put our salvation above your own life, dying on the cross that we would have life and forgiveness. Help us work towards your kind of greatness. Amen.
Written by Pastor Pam Mitcham-Pastor of Community Care firstname.lastname@example.org