Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, 'What do you want?' She said to him, 'Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.' But Jesus answered, 'You do not know what you are asking…..whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:20-22;27-28
How easily we ask God for the wrong things, as James and John and their mother did. How quickly we apply the world's standards to the church, and see her leaders, on the lines of presidents and politicians. We need Christ’s reminder that authority is a form of service, and that those who exercise it must be prepared to suffer.
Jesus uses the incident as a lesson for his disciples. ‘Greatness’ among his followers is not to be measured by one’s power to ‘lord it’ over others – rather, the opposite : it is those most willing to put themselves at the service of others, who take the prize.
Greatness for Jesus is in serving. Greatness of spirit lies in moving from being caught up in our concerns to engaging with the real needs of others. Greatness of soul is expanding the soul to allow God and the concerns of God become first in life. This is best seen in the life of Jesus. Watch him through the gospels as he empties himself and spends himself for others, and finds refreshment in his relationship with his Father. That is what prayer can do for us - it expands our concerns to include the whole world, and opens us to the Spirit of the living God.
Lord, you put that cup of suffering to your lips in Gethsemane, as you foresaw all that was to happen to you. Let me see the suffering in my life as a sharing in your cup.