Summary: When the disciples approach Jesus about spots in his Kingdom, he turns things upside down
A friend of mine this week said something that has resonated with me. She said that in her family, she was the designated worrier. Now, I admit, she has much in her life to be worried about, but that is her story. Our stories are different, but I can’t help but wonder if we have a designated worrier in our households.
Sometimes we get that role because we volunteer. Sometimes we get that role because we are the person who is responsible for everything, and as long as we are responsible, we might as well worry about it. After all, no one else seems to be worrying about it. I mean, if we don’t worry, who will?
Which brings us to today’s passage. In this passage, it says that James and John approached Jesus. Other tellers of this story say it was their Mom who went to Jesus. Perhaps the three of them approached Jesus together. Whatever it was, they were worried. They were worried that Jesus wouldn’t treat them fairly, fairly, of course, meaning they deserved the best spots in his Kingdom.
Instead of yelling at them for questioning his authority, Jesus asks them a question. Can they drink of the cup he will drink of and endure the baptism he is to endure. He is referring to his death on the cross. But they, of course, don’t get it, and Jesus lets it go, saying that he is not in charge of who sits where, that is the job of his Father. Then he told them they might be surprised at who ends up with top billing in heaven, since the ones we think of here on earth might be the very last, and the ones we think least of might be first.
It got me thinking about heaven, and rates and rankings. A few months ago, I discovered an interesting show on Netflix, and I have continued to record and watch it in this season on television. The question on the show is how to earn your way into heaven. Currently, the four main characters are on earth learning to be ethical. But, this week, they discovered the existence of a real heaven and hell. And they were told, now that they knew that good things counted for points, they would no longer be able to achieve positive points, and they did not have enough yet to qualify them for heaven.
What is interesting is what happened next. At first they thought that if they wouldn’t make heaven anyway that there was no reason to do good things. But midway through the program, they began to realize that they still wanted to do good things. And, knowing it wouldn’t matter gave them even more incentive to do good things.
Now, obviously, our achievement into heaven isn’t based on a point system. Jesus already bought our ticket based on his goodness.
But, perhaps you, like the disciples, are wondering about whether there is some kind of a point system, or hierarchy as to who gets to sit next to Jesus at the head table.
In the Christian world, we sometimes even think of them as crowns we might wear, or as jewels in our crown. The more jewels we gain here on earth, the better we will look in heaven, and the more prestige we will have when we get there.
Scripture doesn’t say anything about gaining jewels in our crowns in heaven, or even a lot about crowns, but I found five references to the types of crown we might find in heaven.
The first comes from 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. Here Paul talks about the imperishable crown we receive for running the race. While he uses the word crown, he is talking about the crown of laurel leaves that are placed on the head of the one who wins a foot race. He says that when we run a race here on earth, only one person wins. And, even more, the leaves on the laurel quickly die and they are left with something worthless. He reminds us that when we run the race for Jesus, our imperishable reward is held for us in heaven. While the earthly prize is a crown, I am not certain that Paul is in any way stating that we will receive a heavenly crown.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:19, Paul uses another metaphor in which he mentions a crown. He says, “19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you?” Some people call this the crown of rejoicing. It is the rejoicing in the salvation of others we have brought to Christ. The very fact that Paul says “our hope or joy or crown” makes it clear that this is also a metaphor.