Parallel Texts: Matthew 20:17-28; Luke 18:31-34
This interesting passage begins with Jesus predicting what his fate would be again, and then takes an odd shift when James and John ask for something they don’t understand. In the end, Jesus sort of grants their wish and then tells them what they’ve chosen…
Can’t you just picture the procession as they all marched towards Jerusalem? Jesus is in the lead, followed by the disciples, who in turn were followed by crowds of people. The disciples were astonished at where they were headed, while the people were afraid… but what did they fear? It would seem that the plotting of the Pharisees was not a well-kept secret.
At some point along the way, Jesus takes the disciples aside and tells them what is going to happen again; did they understand it this time?
This is where James and John enter the picture, asking Jesus to grant them a wish. They wanted to be seated at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom! Apparently, they thought they were going into Jerusalem where Jesus would perform a miracle, kick the Romans out, put the Pharisees in their place and move into the palace to be an earthly king, and they wanted the seats of honor for themselves.
I must conclude they didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them.
Oh yes, of course they can drink the cup and have the baptism that Jesus would have, yeah, sign me up!
Well, they got a part of their wish, but not really the good part; they would be persecuted, abused and killed. But the seating arrangements were something else again. Now the other 10 are ticked off because James and John are trying to get the good seats ahead of the others, when Jesus explains how things will work in the Kingdom:
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Unlike an earthly, human kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven is not run by big shots. If you want to be honored in this Kingdom, you must be the slave of all! If you read the previous post, you will recall that it all came down to setting self aside for the sake of the gospel. Here, Jesus is teaching the same thing again, and do they get it this time?
I doubt it.
We might wonder how they could be so dense, how they could fail to see what Jesus was telling them, but let’s not forget that they did not yet see how the story ends, and we have seen it, so it’s only natural that we should have no problem seeing their mistake. That however, brings up another question: Why is it that most Christians don’t comprehend what Jesus was teaching them?
Oh sure, we can all give the correct Sunday school answers, most of us can quote the verses… and we still want to be first, we still want to be recognized, honored and fussed over. We want to follow Jesus when it suits us, and to do our own thing when we want to… and we love to point fingers at others when they mess up.
SO… we know the disciples got it eventually, so the question is more for our time than for theirs:
When will most of us finally get the picture?