By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 20:17-28
17 While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves and said to them on the way, 18 “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; 19 then they will hand him over to the gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and on the third day he will be raised.”
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave, 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”
My brother, who’s well into his thirties, is about to start a new job. I joked to my mom that she should be sure to call up his new boss and make sure he knows how to treat her son. We both laughed. So when James’ and John’s mother comes to Jesus and asks him to put her two sons in charge of his kingdom, I imagine Jesus smiled. Especially since he just said he was going to be “mocked, scourged, and crucified.” Boy, did the disciples miss stuff.
Then Jesus asks if they can drink from his cup, and they’re only too eager to say yes. (Did anyone else think of the research showing that men are more likely to say they can do jobs whether they’re sure they can or not? And that it actually helps their careers?) But even though Jesus says they don’t know what they’re asking — and he knows James and John are clueless — nevertheless, he says they will drink from his cup, as he said in Tuesday’s lesson that the Twelve would sit on twelve thrones. Ironically, they’re asking for the right things, just imagining how it will work in all the wrong ways, and with a lot of mixed motives. They get exactly what they ask for — but in a way that purifies everything that’s wrong with them here.
How often do we go before God with similar mixed motives, asking for good things, but with a certain idea of how it should look? Like the person who prays for patience, imagining a calm, patient version of themselves sailing peacefully through life, feeling rather virtuous, but receives more things that try their patience. God often takes us at our word, giving us what we ask for, but he does it in the way that’s calculated to produce holiness in us.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Malabar – The (united) Church of South India
The Diocese of Central Florida