Reader: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you”
Response: “must be your servant.”
Scripture: Matthew 20:17-28
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”
Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.
She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”
“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”
Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”
When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
As we mentioned the other day, always note what comes before and what comes after any passage you read. The Bible is a woven thread of God’s working through history. Nothing is in the wrong place. In the verses prior to this section, Jesus’ concluding comments to the parable he had just told were the “last will now be first and those who are first will be last.” Apparently James and John were not listening too closely! We are at the point in Jesus’ ministry where he is heading toward Jerusalem for the final time. Pulling the disciples aside, he gives them the unadorned details of exactly what will happen. Matthew, who was one of the twelve present and the author of this gospel, says nothing about any response from the disciples to this news of Jesus as to what is about to transpire. My conclusion is that the disciples were clueless as is shortly apparent. (A note in passing; until the very end, Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man rather than the Son of God. The Son of Man harkened back to the book of Daniel with messianic implications. The Son of God was a more overt expression immediately arousing angry opposition.) Next we read of the mother of James and John asking Jesus for a privileged position in the kingdom for her boys. Apparently they had all processed parts of what Jesus had just said rather quickly! What is interesting to me is that Mrs. Zebedee felt free enough to ask Jesus such a question. She was not, nor apparently were any of the disciples, afraid to make such a request. My impression is that Jesus was very humble and unassuming, a quiet Shepherd. I think, had I been Jesus, I would have said, “Lady, are you nuts? Do you have a clue?” He was more gracious, though he did say, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Apparently the boys were involved in this request, maybe even putting their mother up to ask it. The “you” in Jesus’ answer is plural, meaning Jesus was addressing the sons in his answer. Their naivé response was, “Oh yes, we are able!” The truth is James was martyred and John suffered greatly, ending his life exiled on the island of Patmos. The other ten disciples were no better. It is obvious that the brothers had beat them to the punch in asking for privilege and honor first. Jesus put them all in their place by drawing them back to servanthood leadership. Leadership is not about privilege and power over others. If you want to be first, you must be last; that is the way to be first. If the disciples were paying attention (they weren’t), over the next few days, they would see a servant leader laying down his life for many. The result would be that he “became the first fruits of them that slept.” Let us ask for grace to serve that we might be a thread in the tapestry that God is weaving.
Music: “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee” Hour of Power Choir
Grant us, O Lord of the church, living congregations in which Thy Spirit shall speak and work, and make me also ready to serve Thee in Thy church with the gift Thou hast given me, not to please men and not for worldly honor, but for gratitude and love. Amen. ―Otto Riethmuller