Summary: Have you ever known someone whose aggressive, ambitious personality just rubbed you the wrong way? Have you known someone who was so self-seeking that you couldn’t help but hope something humiliating would happen to them, just to teach them a lesson?
In The Service Of The Master – Part 4
The Twelve Men Who Shaped The World – Session 4
Have you ever known someone whose aggressive, ambitious personality just rubbed you the wrong way? Have you known someone who was so self-seeking that you couldn’t help but hope something humiliating would happen to them, just to teach them a lesson? Have you known someone whose pushy self-promoting got in the way of your own goals and ambitions, humble as they were? Have you ever known someone who was just plain loud about everything, especially about what they believed in? Well, that was how James and his younger brother John were seen by others, and especially James.
When we first meet these two together, they are mentioned as the sons of Zebedee, fishing together with the other pair of brothers, Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:14-20). There are some specific things that we can discern from this passage about the environment that James and John grew up in and how it helped to mold them into the men they were when Jesus called them away from their careers to follow Him instead.
We see in these verses that they worked with and for their father, Zebedee, and that he was a wealthy enough and successful enough fisherman that he had hired men. This was not the norm along the Sea of Galilee. Most of the fishermen worked as part of a family business, or as part of a cooperative endeavor. Zebedee of Galilee was unusual; he was exceptional; he was a cut above the rest. His boys were raised to see themselves in the same light. Their mother thought that they were quite special, too. Perhaps she was an even greater motivator for them to see themselves as above the rest.
In the passage in Matthew 20, we find the mother of James and John approaching Jesus and asking Him to give places of special honor and recognition to her sons, places so lofty that her request caused a major stir among the disciples. Let’s read it.
When you first read this, don’t you find it reminiscent of the stories you’ve heard about mothers of child stars in Hollywood or what are known as “pageant moms”, the ladies who begin training and investing in their toddler daughters to become beauty queens? Salome – Mrs. Zebedee – seems to be cut from that same cloth. Forget the others that are around; forget what the Master may have planned. Surely He can see just how special and unique and gifted her boys are! There are character flaws and behaviors that are quite common among parents like her. They try to run everything, and they run them with an agenda toward ensuring that their offspring receive preferential treatment and special recognition, the key places in the spotlight. They can be extremely mercenary in their approach to matters that affect their children, and all of this is usually fueled by their own desire to be recognized as the special power behind the “gifted one”, the one who has been specially gifted by God to birth this paragon. Life revolves around their success through the success of their children. Notice that she says, “these two sons of mine.” Quite a telling remark in this context, don’t you think?
Now, what do you think was the effect of this and their father’s business success in relation to how James and John viewed themselves? Probably pretty much the same way that most children who are spoiled and mollycoddled and made to think they are God’s gift to mankind view themselves. It is interesting to note that Mr. Zebedee disappears from the Sacred Text. Many believe that he may have passed away during the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Later, when the fishermen return to the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection and go back to fishing, the flavor of the text indicates that the boat they use belongs to them, not someone else. In any case, Dad fades away and Momma rises to the forefront in their lives. It may have been the case all along anyway.
We know that Salome was one of the women who gave aid and support to the ministry of Jesus and His disciples. Perhaps she thought that would help secure her sons a place of importance in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus tells her that she just doesn’t understand what the cost would be for such places of prominence.
We must give her credit, however. Just as being with Jesus altered the character of almost everyone who came in prolonged contact with Jesus, Mrs. Zebedee became a devoted follower of Jesus. Mark makes note that she was there when Jesus was taken down from the cross and that she was one of the women who had spices prepared that Resurrection Morning to take to the tomb (Mark 15:47-6:1-8), and she even entered the empty tomb that day and was told by the angel that “He has risen.” Whatever she had been like, Jesus completely changed her into a gentle, dedicated servant, like her youngest son.