“Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:21-22).
On Sunday, we heard about the Canaanite mother who got on her knees. And pleaded with Jesus to help her. Her daughter was sick – possessed by the devil. And Jesus did help her. the woman was content to be a dog, eating the crumbs that fell from her masters table. That was a feast was more than enough for her and her daughter.
In today’s text we have another mother who gets on her knees. She wants her sons to sit at Jesus right and left hand in his kingdom. She wants her sons to have some glory. To have a place of honor. And isn't that what all mothers want for their children? To make sure that the future of their children is secure and comfortable.
But she doesn’t really know what she is asking. For Jesus place of glory is not comfortable. His place of glory is not off in the clouds somewhere. Jesus place of glory is hanging upon the cross – writhing in pain.
That is why he asks “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” It is Jesus who drinks sour wine – vinegar – at His death. It is Jesus who drinks the cup of the father’s wrath down to the very dregs.
A wrath that would obliterate the universe in destruction if He Himself did not consume it – and vanquish the anger of God against sinners. This is the only reason the sun can shine in the morning, the only reason that your dinner tastes good, and birds sing in your backyard. Because Jesus dies for the sins of the world.
The mother of James and John is not totally wrong in advocating for her sons. She just doesn’t understand that his kingdom is not of this world. His throne is not of gold but of wood soaked in blood. His crown not of diamonds but of sharp thorns.
The mother of James and John just didn’t know what she was asking for. James would have his head cut off and John would be stabbed to death. And so it is that when we pray for our children. Success, security, money, a decent job, getting them out of your basement - that’s all fine and good. But it all pales in comparison with faith in Christ. This is what we ought to pray for when it comes to our children.
We should pray that our children would live in poverty and misery rather than wander from the church or live in unrepentant sin. For these things can destroy faith. And therefore damn. What then should we do?
The mother of James and John was not wrong in asking that her sons be with Jesus in his kingdom. But Jesus kingdom is a kingdom of the cross. Jesus takes her sons – the disciples - James and John aside and tells them what his kingdom looks like. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This mothers prayers were answered only because her often arrogant sons were adopted to become holy saints of God. They toiled, had bitter lives and bitter deaths. But they remained faithful to God and poured themselves out as a sacrifice to others. They gave up their lives and therefore kept them.
It is Jesus who teaches us that “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” James and John were released from this vale of tears and ushered into the City of God – so that they sons of men might become sons of God.
That is why St. Paul preaches that we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
You too are loved by God. And nothing will separate you from his love. Tonight you have proof that your mothers prayers for you have been answered. He has bourne your sins and carried your sorrows. You are His. Contrary to our own thoughts and experience, God knows what is best for you.
This evening we have the privilege of getting on our knees and receiving the crumbs that fall from our master’s table. Your mothers prayers for you are fulfilled tonight in your hearing. The body and blood of Christ given and shed for you. In the words of Jesus in the book of Revelation “Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.” And then indeed we and our own children will sit with Christ in His Kingdom which never ends. In Jesus name. Amen.