An Unexpected Request
“Was I really so wrong to ask?,” she must have said to herself.
After all, who better than her two sons? They were strong and boisterous. They weren’t constantly making fools of themselves, like Peter. They were balanced people, not overly zealous for political causes like Simon. They certainly showed better moral fiber than that Roman oppression-sympathizing, tax-collecting Matthew. Whom better could he really choose? Certainly not anyone from this random assortment of misfits.
No, her sons stood strong. They would say what they meant and mean what they said. Jesus himself had given them the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” He practically encouraged their boldness. As she gave Jesus her request, she had even kneeled in respect. So why did everyone have to get so bothered?
“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”Matthew 20:21
She asked boldly, and was denied forthrightly, along with some strange comment about whether they could really “drink from his cup” or receive his same “baptism.” Of course they could! They were up for anything. They were worthy of being his right and left-hand men. But now everyone was indignant with them. It was an entirely undesirable outcome. Why wouldn’t Jesus give her what she wanted?
“Whatever. It’s his loss. Whom better could he really select for the role? And what of the others? Let them be mad! They’re probably just jealous they didn’t think to ask for it first.”
A Shocking Perspective
“There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were…the mother of the sons of Zebedee.”Mark 15:40
I wonder about Mrs. Zebedee. I wonder what it was like for her to stand in the shadow of the cross. What can only be an imagined reality for us was an indelible memory for her. The sounds of the hammer driving the nails. The texture of the dust kicked up by the ruckus. That metallic smell of blood combined with the smell of sweat. The sounds of the loudest and nastiest of his oppressors, mocking him. The sights of the largest and strongest of his torturers, striking him. Jesus himself, the last things he said, and the look on his face as his body went limp. It was so wrong, and yet all she could really do at the moment was to watch and weep.
I wonder about Mrs. Zebedee. I wonder if she could hear her own words echoing in her head. “Let my two sons sit at your right hand and your left.” I wonder what she thought as she saw those two common criminals, hanging at his right hand and his left. What must have gone through her mind as the soldiers broke their legs, causing them to die more quickly?
It could have been them.
I wonder if anyone has ever been so grateful as was Mrs. Zebedee that Jesus didn’t give her what she had thought she wanted.
A Conscious Choice
“…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”Galatians 2:9
It was absolutely the case that both James and John, son of Zebedee, would go on to be leaders, even of the servant-hearted variety that Jesus had described in response to their (haughty) request. It was also the case that both would suffer greatly. But Jesus would not have them do so without their understanding and accepting the path they were choosing.
In fact, James is the only apostle whose martyrdom is recorded in the New Testament. Herod captured him and had him put to death with the sword. It’s hard to imagine what a difficult time that would have been for the church. Even so, he drank the cup faithfully that God gave him to drink.
There are a number of things I thought I had wanted earlier in life for which I am now grateful that God denied me. Even more, I am glad that God has not reduced his followers like me to second-hand minions. We’ve not been kept in the dark. We are invited into the light.
To be a Christian is to be a follower. Jesus hasn’t shouted orders from behind us. He has led humbly ahead of us, inviting us to follow in his footsteps. Even though we may not know or understand all the future implications our faith may have for our lives, we can know that this path is a path we are choosing and that we aren’t walking alone. He has never asked us to do anything for him which he hasn’t already done for us, nor will he ever leave us or forsake us.