Our gospel reading this Sunday is from Mark 10:35-45 and the same story is recorded in Matthew 20:20-28 in Section 125b.  The interaction and requests by James, John and their mother, as recorded by Matthew, may seem egotistic and self-centered, or be construed as the embers of an unsanctified worldview. As we study today’s gospel reading, let us consider folly of keeping hold of such roons from our old self.


Scripture:

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother1 of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling2 and asking a certain thing of him. 21 He said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these, my two sons, may sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left hand, in your Kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking. 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 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 hand is not mine to give; but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard it, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus summoned them, and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you, but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 27 Whoever desires to be first among you shall be your bondservant, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Mark 10:35-45
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee,3  came near to him, saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask.”4 36 He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 They said to him, “Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left hand,5 in your glory.”6¯7 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They said to him, “We are able.” Jesus said to them, “You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink,8 and you shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; 40 but to sit at my right hand and at my left hand is not mine to give, but for whom it has been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant towards James and John.9  42 Jesus summoned them, and said to them, “You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant.10 44 Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. 45 For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”11

The story takes place in Phase 5b of our chronological study through the Harmony of the Gospels. The disciples had been with Jesus for over two years, but they, like us, had much to learn, and needed to let the gospel sink in to their hearts and minds. We live in an ambitious world, wherein people strive to be, to become, or to know, who is the best, richest, smartest, in the world. Ah, but we who claim to be followers of Christ should not be concerned with such things.


Group Dialog:

  1. In what ways or topics do you keep score or follow who is “on top” and who’s “below you”?
  2. Whats the difference between ambition and vanity vs aspiration and vocation?
  3. Warren Wiersbe reminds us to “be careful when we pray because we might get what we ask for” – Think on that which you desire most… What has it cost you already? What more might it cost you?
  4. Are you willing to serve instead of rule? Are you willing to serve before you rule? Are you willing to serve as you rule?
  5. What are the motives (the emotivations) behind your actions and aspirations?

Study Notes:

  1. Their mother was Salome (Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40). It is interesting that she is not called the the wife of Zebedee, but the mother of James and John. It may be that Zebedee was already dead. Tradition says that she is also the sister of Joseph the carpenter, Mary’s husband, the mother of Jesus. That might account as to why she and the boys thought they might have some special familial right to be appointed seats of authority on the left and the right.
  2. That is in humility or respect of Jesus.
  3. James the Greater, (not James the less the son of Alphaeus).
  4. This has nothing to do with Jesus’ later invitation and encouragement in John 15:7 (Section 150a) “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” It seems then that soon hereafter John, who alone recorded that instance, learned this all important lesson and the priorities of the Kingdom of God.
  5. The Jews (and other cultures in that time such as the Romans, Africans, and Egyptians) considered it a mark of great honor and favor to sit at the right hand of a ruler (1 Kings 2:19 ).
  6. It may be that Salome, James and John were pondering the words of Jesus from the week before (Section 124a | Matthew 19:28) when he said that each of the disciples (the 12 apostles) would be sitting on one of twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. As Jesus was the descendant of David, some wanted him to create an earthly kingdom, but the Kingdom of heaven is no monarchy and Jesus had no interest in any temporal monarchy either.
  7. What this request revealed was their vanity, corruption and ambition. Their pride and selfishness shows that these two and their mother still had much to learn. Such is the process of transformation and sanctification. Its takes some getting used to, breaking old habits and mindsets that have been ingrained from our childhood. Though they had spent more than two years with Jesus, they still had a temporal worldview.
  8. James, the son of Zebedee and Salome was put to death just before the day of the Passover 44AD (Acts 12: 1-2) by Herod Agrippa I. After Pentecost James preached throughout Judea, and tradition says that he also traveled to Spain and preached the Gospel there. It is John whom Jesus charged to care for his mother (John 19:26-27). His vocation to ministry led him to preach in Jerusalem, travel northward and preach the Gospel. For about ten years he served as the bishop of Ephesus, and ministered to all the churches throughout Asia Minor. Then either by the hand of the Emperor Nero (54-68AD) or Domitian (81-96AD), he was banished and imprisoned on the island of Patmos from where it seems he wrote the Book of Revelation. He was eventually freed and wrote the three letters of John as well as the theological elements of the gospel of John. Soon after he died in Ephesus about 100AD of natural causes.
  9. Their indignant response reveals also in them the same ambition as seen in Jesus’ response to the twelve. See also Philippians 2:3 and Proverbs 13:10
  10. Read also 1Peter 5:3, Matthew 23:8-12, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
  11. Read also: Philippians 2:5-8,