The Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent
March 8, 2023
Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time and A Mother’s Request
In Matthew 20:17-28 gives his disciples details of what they can expect when they reach Jerusalem. His death and his resurrection will take place soon.
There are people other than the 12 disciples who are listening to the words of Jesus with concern. One is a woman whose name we will never know for certain. (Perhaps it was Salome.) She is identified as the wife of a man named Zebedee and the mother of James and John, third and fourth of Jesus’ recruits. Her hopes for her sons as they grew up could not have been that they would become the disciples of an itinerant preacher. She had probably been satisfied to see them become part of the community of men who fished successfully in the Sea of Galilee. But by the time we meet her Jesus has been preaching and performing miracles for three years. All doubts about Jesus’ identity and of her sons’ allegiance to him are behind her. She has accepted the fate of Jesus and his followers and her mind has turned toward paradise. As she bows before Jesus we learn something else about her: she is a woman who still has ambitions for her sons. She accepts that they are to share the fate of Jesus on earth and in heaven. Why not ask for good places in paradise for them? She wants for them to be favored above the other ten disciples and asks, « Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right hand the other at your left in your kingdom. » The response of Jesus is two-fold. He dismisses the mother with, « You do not know what you are asking. » He turns away from her and speaks directly to her sons. He replies to them, as he often does, by asking another question. « Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? » The brothers reply that they can. Jesus goes on to say that it is not up to him to assign places in heaven. By this time the ten other disciples have had time to process the scene and become indignant with James and John and their mother. Jesus calms things by praising the idea that a person might become great among the other disciples by being the most willing of servants.
In this passage Jesus’ actions are shown in unflattering light. He is directly unkind to the mother of James and John and he asks the two sons to choose between himself and their mother. I pity the mother of James and John and hope that she found consultation.