Homily 2023-07-27 Mt 20,17-28
It’s not so clear whose idea it was, to position the sons of Zebedee for high positions in the
expected Kingdom of Christ, but somebody was being ambitious there. Maybe one or both sons thought of it, and figured if their mom made the appeal on their behalf, they would look more appealingly humble and the proposal would look more appealing to Jesus. Maybe their mother thought of it, and wanted to become a mother proud of her sons and so pushed them forward to advance them. That’s the stereotypical role of the stereotypical “Jewish mother,” isn’t it? “Well, my sons are so important! They are the right-hand and left-hand men of the Messiah King! I am so very proud!”
That doesn’t pan out, though; not in Jesus’ kingdom, which is not of this earth; not even on earth.
It’s hard to imagine Mary, his mother, saying, “Well, my son is the Messiah King! My son is the son of the Most High! I am so very proud!” Naw, she’s the one who said, “Let it be done to me, according to His will.” Truly humble, and not proud, not ambitious.
Did Jesus rebuke the Zebedee family for this attempt? Not at first; He took an approach that was
gentle at first, and then spoke a lesson. It was indeed a rebuke but in a gentle and oblique form, yet quite firm and definite. He first asked if they were able to drink the cup that He would drink – an indirect allusion to his crucifixion and death, I would think. They were bold enough to say they could, even though later they’ run away during the arrest of Jesus, escaping that cup just then. Their martyrdom had to wait till after the strengthening by the Holy Spirit and would come much later; their boast of being strong enough was, let us say, premature.
Jesus then demurred, saying it wasn’t for Him to decide; the positions they asked for had already
been appointed by his Father. That would point to the criminals who were to be executed, one at his right, and one at his left. While the sons of Zebedee were imagining positions in glory, Jesus was looking at the way to that glory, through ignominy, torture and death. What of Heaven, then? Oh, well, I simply don’t know who’s at Jesus’ right and left in Heaven. Should we suggest His Father, and the Holy Spirit? That would be too much, for the sons of Zebedee to replace those divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity!Couldn’t be done! Or perhaps Our Lady Theotokos on his right; and I’m not sure who on the left, probably the next most humble person ever, the least: maybe that widow who tossed a copper coin into the treasury at Jerusalem, her very livelihood, or maybe Job, or maybe someone we don’t even know.
When the mother of the sons of Zebedee was asking her presumptuous question, the sons of Zebedee
were certainly not the least or the last or the humblest, and for that very reason would not qualify to sit at Jesus’ right and left, next to Him in glory. Meanwhile, the ten other disciples began listening in, and realizing what was being asked, became rightly indignant at the two brothers! So Jesus called them all and presented an explicit, clear lesson. He had come not to be served, but to serve; they were not to be emulating the ruler of the nations, not to lord it over them, not to wield great authority. They were be more like slaves serving the people of God, giving their very lives for the many. I am quite sure that were our Bishop present at that point, he would explain clearly to the disciples, and especially to the sons of Zebedee: “It’s for your salvation!”
And so, we return again and ever again to the fact that everything that befalls us, every situation
we find ourselves in, every difficulty – and yes, every ease and comfort – that may come our way, is sent or at least permitted by God, and for this reason: that we may listen in our souls to learn His will for us, then and there, and draw upon all we’ve every learned from the Scriptures and the other Teachings of the Church, and from our experiences and spiritual readings and the voices of our spiritual instructors, live and in books: and make sure our responses are good and right ones. We’re somehow, in ways small or large, to respond for God’s glory and to express His merciful loving-kindness to the souls around us. Give the thirsty a drink of water, or pray for someone in need at a distance, or ask prayers for your healing, or lift up a psalm of praise to our Lord: in ways small or large, hidden or plain, we’re to keep responding, to everything, as best we can, in accord with His will.