“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.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
On their way to Jerusalem, towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus wanted to prepare the minds of his disciples for what was going to happen in the coming days. He didn’t want them to be scandalized when they would see their master arrested like a common criminal, beaten, insulted, dehumanized, and made to carry a heavy cross.
This was not the first time Jesus was predicting His arrest and crucifixion. On one occasion, Peter tried to object to this but Jesus said to him: “Get behind me, Satan.” None of the disciples dared to challenge Jesus again. On this occasion, the mother of James and John, (wife of Zebedee), came up to Jesus with her sons asking: “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right and one at your left in your kingdom.”
For those who believe that James and John were biological brothers of Jesus, this passage definitely proves them wrong. One, James and John were described as “sons of Zebedee” not “sons of Joseph.” Two, the name of the woman who brought them was not mentioned but if it was the mother of Jesus, the gospel writer would have indicated it. Three, this woman had only two sons hence she asked Jesus to “command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right and one at your left…” Four, if they were biological brothers, they would never have bothered to make such a request in public.
James and John together with Peter were closest to Jesus among the twelve disciples. It was the three of them that Jesus took with Him to the Mount of Transfiguration. It was the three of them that Jesus took with Him into the home of the little girl who was reported to have died. James and John considered themselves the most qualified for those seats so they decided to bring their mother to Jesus to ask. (After all, Jesus said: “Ask and you will receive…” Matthew 7:7)
Jesus could see how serious they were about getting the seats in heaven. Jesus asked if they would be willing to drink “the cup that I am to drink”. Without asking the meaning of this cup, they responded: “We are able!” Jesus said: “Ok, you will drink my cup but that would not guarantee you the seats” (This teaches us that none of us can boast with regards to heavenly rewards). Jesus, knowing that what they were asking for was not bad decided to teach not just James and John, but all who were listening, the secret of greatness. Suffering (drinking the cup) may not guarantee heaven but being a servant of others will surely get you to heaven. Jesus said: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.”
The secret to greatness is the service of others. Just as respect begets respect, service begets promotion. The quickest way to become great is to humble yourself in the service of others; in other words, the quickest way to rise is to help others to rise. If you ever find yourself in a position of service, consider it a privilege; see it as a period of training for greatness. I am convinced that during those years that Joseph was a slave, God was preparing him for the office of the Prime Minister. Denzel Washington once said: “Ease is a greater threat to progress than adversity.”
By his very life, Jesus showed us that the key to greatness is service. St. Paul says: Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:5-11). Serve others with gladness. God will lift you to greater heights.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to find joy in being a servant. Amen.
Bible Study: Jer. 18:18-20, Ps. 31:5-6,14-16, Matthew 20:17-28).
Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu