Summary: The mother of the sons of Zebedee asked Jesus for a special gift that was not His to give.
Feast of St. James 2013
Matthew 20 Then the mother of the sons of Zeb'edee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." 22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." 23 He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Moms. We either are a mom or know moms. I recall one author trying to answer Freud’s question, “what do women want?” The answer, she said, is clear. Women want their children. And they want their children to do well. There’s a play on words in the Hebrew here. Zebedee is short for the Hebrew Zebadiah, which means “gift of the Lord.” James’s and John’s mother is not named; rather, their father is named as is customary. She is asking the Lord for another gift.
Mom is thinking of Jesus as the Messiah, the new king, who would by force expel the Romans and establish the kingdom of God in Jerusalem. The ones on the left and on the right would be his principal assistants, Jesus’s “right and left hand men.” Jesus answered by making two points. The first is that all those who follow Jesus would sit at the banquet and drink from the same cup. They see it as the cup of victory, but Jesus knows that it will be a cup of suffering, and, for most of the Apostles, martyrdom as Jesus was martyred. Moreover, the cup that Jesus offers is the cup of service–service as a slave serves–but willing service in the way of Jesus and Mary. Service all the way to death.
The second point to take from this Gospel is that the throne of Jesus is the cross. James and John would not be on the right and left of his throne; they were to live through Pentecost so that they could help spread the kingdom of God. No, Jesus debased Himself to the point of dying a slave’s death, crucified between two robbers. And mom was there, offering with Him the perfect sacrifice that reconciled all of us to God. Moreover, mom–Mary–saw Jesus triumph. Through service and suffering, we will make our mothers proud just as Jesus did.