Jesus took the disciples aside on the road to Jerusalem to tell them in very explicit terms what would happen when they arrived in the city, and before we could hear their reaction, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, comes up to plead for her sons’ position around the glorious throne of Jesus in “your kingdom”.
Can you believe her timing?!
In the last post I mentioned the contrast between the earlier discussion of the disciples’ rewards in the Kingdom, and the real mission of Jesus in Jerusalem; immediately this woman interrupts the conversation for this. It is simply too much, that is unless we remember what is going on in this section, in which the dialogue in every scene is for the instruction of the disciples concerning the real messianic mission of Jesus. No, the messianic purpose of Jesus was not to re-establish the glory days of old Israel as an earthly Nation, nor is it the purpose of God to do so in the future, for the Kingdom of heaven is not of this world.
Jesus makes this clear in His answer, telling the woman that she doesn’t know what she is asking. Then He counters with a question to the disciples, asking if they can “drink the cup I am going to drink.” Naturally, thinking that their position in the new Israel is on the line, they say they can. I must say that I wonder if they were even listening to what Jesus was telling them before the interruption. Jesus tells them that they will indeed drink from His cup, and that drinking of it won’t determine their position at His table, for His Father would make the seating chart.
Hearing this, they were indignant, for even now they seem to have been clueless about His real mission. It was at this point that the crux of His teaching comes to the fore; it would do us well to pay attention too:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the 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 your slave— 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.” (20:25-28)
Notice how Jesus taught them, using the Gentiles as the example to show them what they were looking like at this juncture, demanding to have high positions. The Kingdom of heaven is not of this world, and thus, the way to be great in the Kingdom of heaven is not a worldly journey, but a journey of service and putting others first, which is the exact opposite of what is considered great in this world. Jesus’ mission as Messiah was not to be hailed as a conquering hero, as it would be in this world for a great King, for He had come to be humiliated and tortured for the sake of all humanity; such was the degree to which His service would go in the service not only of Mankind, but of His Father. Implicit within these verses is something Jesus would say elsewhere, that the servant is not greater than the Master, and if the Master is Himself a servant, then so shall His disciples be servants. Sadly, not everyone who considers himself as a Christ follower today has learned this lesson, for if we are to follow Christ, we are to be servants, and if we are to be leaders in the congregation of followers of Christ, then we are to be the servants of all.