What do you want?…You don’t know what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink? You will indeed drink from my cup but I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. These places belong to those for whom my Father has prepared them.
Here is the story known as “The Mother’s Request”:
Then the wife of Zebedee came to Jesus with her two sons, bowed before him, and asked him for a favor. “What do you want?” Jesus asked her. She answered, “Promise me that these two sons of mine will sit at your right and your left when you are King.” “You don’t know what you are asking for,” Jesus answered the sons. “Can you drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?”
“We can,” they answered. “You will indeed drink from my cup,” Jesus told them, “but I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. These places belong to those for whom my Father has prepared them.” (Matthew 20:20-23).
Two of Jesus’ disciples were James and John, sons on Zebedee. In this story their mother came to Jesus and asked him for a special position of privilege for her two sons. Just recently on Day 172 Jesus has promised that his disciples will receive a great reward for their faithful service:
You can be sure that when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne in the New Age, then you twelve followers of mine will also sit on thrones, to rule the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake, will receive a hundred times more and will be given eternal life.
But apparently Jesus’ promises of thrones in the New Age, restitution for all the comforts they have forsaken, and eternal life were not enough for this mother and her sons. They wanted special assigned seats of near Jesus. They want to be first among the disciples. They want to be recognized as being the best. Big mistake. You would think they would all know better. Instead of being grateful for the great gifts that Jesus has already promised them, they wanted more. Jesus responds by saying that he’s not the one in control of the New Age seating chart. He says that God is the one who makes that decision.
Jesus told them that he will go to Jerusalem where he will be tortured, killed, and resurrected from the dead three days later. The disciples probably assume, based on their belief that he is the Messiah described by the prophets, that the New Age will begin as soon as Jesus returns from the dead. They probably assume that God will suddenly cause a big castle to materialize out of thin air. They probably imagine that angels will carry them into the castle where they will receive crowns and royal robes and scepters. The angels will then carefully seat them in those twelve thrones Jesus referred to where they will reign in luxury for the rest of their lives. Lots of great food. Many wives and children. The disciples surely image that they will be the new ruling class, wielding tremendous power and influence and all of the other privileges and material pleasures that the kings of the earth enjoy. They will sit back and enjoy a reign of peace and prosperity that will last forever and all the people will continually shower them with their adoration and honor. There they will sit, for an eternity, like bumps on a log, secure and comfortable in their assigned seats. Hmmm…..sounds like a daydream that kid in A Christmas Story would come up with…”All hail to King Ralphie….”
But Jesus bursts their bubble by pointing out that while there will be rewards, there will also be suffering. He says that God will be passing out these rewards in the New Age based on the degree of suffering experienced in the current age. No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. He questions whether these typically clueless disciples are capable of withstanding persecution. The very fact that they are making this silly request for priority seating is evidence enough that he is right. It shows that their motivations are immature, selfish and self-serving. They lack spiritual maturity. They need a reality check. What Jesus is faced with in Jerusalem isn’t going to be pretty for any of them.
The disciples also apparently need a crash course in prophetic visions and metaphors. I don’t think Jesus was ever talking about literal thrones and physical seating in an actual castle when he promised his disciples positions of honor. Here is an example where the word “throne” is used in the Old Testament as a metaphor for the empowerment of all Jerusalem:
Jerusalem, be strong and great again! Holy city of God, clothe yourself with splendor! The heathen will never enter your gates again. Shake yourself free, Jerusalem! Rise from the dust and sit on your throne! Undo the chains that bind you, captive people of Zion! (Isaiah 52:1-2).
It’s almost comical, the idea of these disciples being concerned about their assigned seats in the New Age. What a petty concern! Kind of embarrassing. Oh well. That’s where they were at. Is it any wonder that Jesus got frustrated with his disciples now and then? But it’s comforting to know that he never gave up on them.
What does this scripture say to you?