In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 17-19, Jesus describes the events that are to take place shortly in Jerusalem – His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion and death, followed by His glorious resurrection on the third day. It seems a little incongruous then, that these verses are then followed by the account of an unusual request.
In verses 20-24 the mother of James and John kneels at the feet of Jesus and asks that her two sons be given the positions of honour, at the right and left sides of Jesus, in His heavenly kingdom.
“You don’t know what you are asking” Jesus said to them. v.22. The fact that this was addressed to James and John implies that they had a hand in their mother’s request. “Can you drink from the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can.” They answered.
Jesus goes on to explain that it is His Father’s prerogative to allocate the places of honour next to Jesus in heaven, not His own.
I wonder who our Father has determined will sit next to Jesus?
Perhaps someone of great faith and influence.
Perhaps someone who has suffered much and been martyred.
Perhaps someone who has toiled unceasingly for the kingdom.
Maybe, just maybe, it might be a little child, or someone with a severe disability, whom the world has rejected as unwanted or useless.
We don’t know.
We do know from the many accounts in the Bible that Jesus loved and used any that would come to Him in faith. He ministered to the educated elite in the synagogues and revealed Himself to the wise scholars such as Nicodemus, but equally He was drawn to the poor and needy. He presented His teachings in parables able to be understood by uneducated folk. He sought out the outcasts – the lepers, demon-possessed, criminals and prostitutes and others, and gave them hope for a changed life in Christ.
James and John had been with Jesus throughout His earthly ministry and had witnessed many miracles, but their minds were still on earthy values of position and power. It was not until Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that the true nature of Jesus’ kingdom would become apparent to them. Because the greatest gift we can ever hope to receive is that which Jesus enabled by His death and resurrection – the gift of eternal relationship with God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I think any of us when we get to heaven will no doubt realise how little we deserve to be there, and what a debt of gratitude we owe our Saviour. If we can fall at His feet and wash them with our tears before joining in the praises of our heavenly brothers and sisters in Christ, that will be enough.