To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28
The text begins with what is known as the third and final Passion and Resurrection prediction in Matthew’s Gospel. This is the most detailed of the three and Matthew specifies crucifixion as the manner in which Jesus will be put to death. However, Jesus is not simply a passive victim, his death is in obedience to the will of God and he will let nothing and no one come in the way of this obedience. Even as he speaks of his death, Jesus also predicts his being raised on the third day.
If in Mark, it is the brothers James and John who make of Jesus the request for places of honour (Mk 10:35-37), in Matthew, it is the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew does not name the brothers since he wants to spare them this ignominy) who comes with the request on behalf of her sons. The right hand and left hand symbolize places of honour and authority. In his response, Jesus does not address the mother or even James and John, but all the disciples. In contrast to Mark who mentions both the cup and baptism, Matthew focuses exclusively on the cup of suffering, testing, rejection, judgement and violent death. The metaphor “cup” here seems to refer to the death ordained by God which is willingly accepted by the one who is to go to his death. The disciples’ bravado and willingness to drink the cup is only verbal and not one which they can show in their deeds. Though Jesus is aware of this, he looks beyond their failure and invites them to share his cup. However, even martyrdom does not gain one a special place in the kingdom because not even Jesus will be able to assign such places. These are the exclusive prerogative of God.
The request of the mother of the sons of Zebedee leads to anger on the part of the other ten. This anger indicates that they too like the mother (and the two brothers) had not really understood Jesus’ way of proceeding. Jesus thus has to teach them yet again the meaning of discipleship, authority and service in the kingdom. The king in the kingdom is not a ruler but one who serves, the Lord does not lord it over others but is their slave. By adding “Just as” before the final verse here, Matthew makes Jesus as the model whom the disciples are called to imitate.
The desire to be in charge and dominate others is a very real desire and most of us possess it. Some in large measure others in small, but it is there. We like others to follow our instructions and do what we tell them and feel upset or angry if they do not obey. Too easily we judge people by the titles they have or the positions they occupy in society and this leads to a desire in each of us to want to possess those titles or occupy those positions. We identify ourselves and others too much by these external titles and do not look at other more important areas of their lives and ours. The text of today calls us to review our need for titles and positions of honour and spend ourselves instead in service.