20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. 21 And He said to her, “What do you wish?“ She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23 So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to Himself and said… (Matt 20:20-25; NKJV)
Right after Jesus reveals His betrayal and death to the disciples, He is asked that seats of honor would be granted to two of them when Jesus comes into His kingdom. As I said earlier, I don’t want to be too hard on these guys as we all find ourselves putting our foot in our mouths when we start thinking of ourselves first. They were asking for the “chief seats” and I think we can get into this trap too. It is not hard to understand why. They see what it looks like with Roman and Jewish leadership…what the trappings of power look like. They have been on the wrong end of things for their entire lives and now they have an opportunity to be on top. So, through their own selfish lens, they (or should I say their mother) asks for what they want. It is selfish and it is misguided but it is what they “wanted”. We can make the same mistake.
Jesus responds by qualifying what they are asking. Per the previous statement, He asks if they can endure the cup (signifying God’s wrath) and baptism He will have. Of course, they are certain they can…though they don’t really know what they are saying. Jesus knows and He tells them what will come to pass in the future as a result of their faithfulness but right now they can’t see past the “chief seats”. James will drink the cup of martyrdom (Acts 12:2) and we know that many disciples of Jesus suffered a lot (even death) because of their faith. In the moment, however, the brothers can’t see that and only want to be in a place of honor with the King…even if they don’t yet fully understand it.
The result within the immediate family (of the 12) was the other 10 becoming very displeased with the brothers. I don’t know if they are upset because they didn’t think to ask first, because they understood what Jesus was saying of betrayal and death and were hurt these two would be so selfish or what exactly got under their skin. The bottom line is, the brothers’ selfish behavior created division within the group and it is starting to boil over. This is not uncommon even today. If there is a brother who is acting selfishly or in a way that is not unifying the group, we can get upset and then we can start talking among ourselves and then we can let it boil over and great division takes place. What we should do, however, is do what Jesus does.
This is one of my favorite images in the Bible. As this disagreement begins to take place within the 12, what does Jesus do? He calls them to Himself. I picture a huddle and maybe even a group hug eventually. But here, Jesus calls them together and He teaches for them all to learn. That is the case with us…we all need to learn from our own and from others shortfalls and mistakes. None of us are perfect and when another hurts us or wrongs us due to their selfish behavior…call them near and bring Jesus with you. Talk about it, pray about it, love one another. We all get off track and take our eye off the ball. This will hurt when the consequence of this is against us. But it will hurt a whole lot more if we lose a brother and we have a great example in our Savior of how to call each other close, learn from each other and love one another…God is glorified in that!
There is a lot going on in these verses but the visual in my mind from God’s word of Jesus putting His arms around His disciples, pulling them near and teaching them…redeeming them…loving them is one that brings joy, hope and peace to my heart today. I hope it does the same for you and if you need to repent and draw someone close that you might have pushed away…do that today. Ask for someone to help in that. Jesus is waiting and will go too.