Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28 -
When Jesus was going to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “See, we are going to Jerusalem. There, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law; and they will condemn him to death. They will hand him over to the foreigners, who will mock him, scourge him and crucify him. But he will be raised to life on the third day.”
Then the mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down, to ask a favor. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?” And she answered, “Here, you have my two sons. Grant, that they may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They answered, “We can.” Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink my cup; but to sit at my right or at my left is not for me to grant. That will be for those, for whom my Father has prepared it.”
The other ten heard all this, and were angry with the two brothers. Then Jesus called them to him and said, “You know, that the rulers of nations behave like tyrants, and the powerful oppress them. It shall not be so among you: whoever wants to be great in your community, let him minister to the community. And if you want to be the first of all, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man, who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life to redeem many.”
“You do not know what you are asking.”
The gospel writer is hardly subtle in depicting the wide gulf between Jesus’ teaching and his disciples’ capacity to comprehend. Here he delivers a chilling forecast of the fate that awaits him in Jerusalem:betrayal, arrest, torture, and death. At least Peter’s previous reply, “Lord, this shall never happen!” is appropriate to the subject matter. But it is hard to surpass the obtuse request of the mother of James and John, that her sons may be afforded places of honor when Jesus comes into his kingdom. Even the two disciples seem to have focused purely on glory.
They are confident that they have joined a“winning team.” But are they truly prepared to drink from the cup from which he will drink—the cup that even Jesus prays might pass him by?In the cup that Jesus will drink, there is no separating the glory from its bitter price. And Jesus’ kingdom is not a reflection of worldly hierarchies where greatness is a matter of lording it over and oppressing others. It is a way of humility, an emptying of power. To be first in this kingdom is to be the servant of all. But words fail. Jesus will have to show them what this means.
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