20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached him with her sons. She knelt down to ask him for something. 21 “What do you want?” he asked her. “Promise,” she said to him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right and the other on your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right and left is not mine to give; instead, it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” — Matthew 20:20-28
by Jan Howell
How often have you made an “ask” of God that was not beyond His capability, but was beyond your comprehension? How did it turn out? I have definitely made more than my fair share of requests to God not knowing or understanding fully what I was asking, only to come to terms later with difficult truths and a painful reality.
In high school, I wanted to become a Supreme Court Justice. I had no idea about the path most Supreme Court Justices follow, and no one in my family was a lawyer. I didn’t realize all the steps it would take to put me in the right places in preparation for such a position. Then in college, I experienced some health issues, after which my dreams changed a great deal in a short time frame. I felt I would be fortunate to simply live on my own and become a secretary. Thankfully, at this point in life, since I’m neither a Supreme Court justice nor a secretary, I’ve learned to cultivate moderation and be content with my lot in life.
What’s interesting about the request of the mother of James and John is not the fact that it occurred, but that she was incredibly uninformed about what she was asking. Her sons also gave uninsightful responses to Jesus’ continued line of questioning: “Are you able? Do you have what it takes to do what My kingdom requires?” The word “able” is the Greek word dunamai, meaning to be possible or to have the power. Christians are supposed to be disciples of Christ who are filled with dunamis, the force or power of Christ in us. James and John declared, “We are able,” but they had no idea what Jesus was really saying would be required of them.
Jesus started with direct truth: “You don’t know what you are asking…this is beyond your comprehension.” Jesus knew their limitations, but He was never one to waste an opportunity to train His disciples. Even though they did not get it at that point in time, He continued teaching them as long as He was with them. Yet He didn’t explain the type of kingdom He would reign over, and it’s unclear how much knowledge the disciples had really picked up by then. We know in hindsight that Jesus was looking forward to a different type of kingdom.
Jesus let the brothers know they would be taking a path that followed His, but He also told them He did not have the authority to grant their request. He ultimately indicated that the one who would be the greatest in His kingdom would be the one who was the greatest servant of all. The word used by Jesus implies that this person will perform menial tasks, wait on others, and run errands for the other disciples. This was obviously not what the brothers or their mother were hoping for when she asked for them to sit in seats of honor and authority on either side of Jesus.
- We often are like the mother and these brothers when we ask Jesus for things we think we need or simply want. Have you made an “ask” of God that was not beyond His capability but was beyond your comprehension?
- How aware are we of the implications of what we are asking? Do we really understand the costs associated with our requests?
- When you think of yourself as able, do you ever consider that God’s purposes and ways might not match your expectations? Are you able to surrender your will to His ways, even when you don’t understand them?
- Are we willing to serve in menial roles, performing low tasks without being recognized for our contributions? Do we think of ourselves as “the slave of all,” cultivating the mindset and attitude Jesus requires for those who came to minister as He did?
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.