“The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’ She answered him, ‘Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom’” (Mt 20:21-22).
The context of this request from the mother of the sons of Zebedee, James and John, comes from reading a few verses before the quote above. Start reading at Matthew 20:17 and you will see that Jesus and his twelve apostles are heading toward Jerusalem. Jesus stops to share with them, for the third time, that he will be condemned and crucified.
Jesus’ statement of his imminent suffering and death appears to be ignored by the mother of James and John. The other ten are indignant, not because of the apparent lack of acknowledging Jesus’ statement, but about who is the greatest among them! It is easy to imagine how the chaotic scene ensues! As Saint John Chrysostom wrote: “See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two” (Chrysostom 1975, 1552)!
This event is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Mark has James and John speaking for themselves, not their mother, as in Matthew. Luke does not even record the initial request of James and John at all, but comes in at the point of the apostle’s dispute. What all record, including the Gospel of John, is Jesus’ interjection where he made it clear to his apostles that he came to serve, not to be served. To follow Jesus meant, not that James and John would be given positions of honor, the sitting at his right or his left, but that they were to serve as he served, to love as he loved.
As disciples of Jesus, one of the most powerful ways we can serve, the most powerful ways we can love, is to be truly present, done most effectively when we actively listen. This is done when we look at each other, resist the temptation of thinking about our own needs or thinking about what we are to say. We need to put the book down, set the work aside, turn off the tv, put away the cell phone, disengage our thoughts, and instead look at and listen to what the person before us has to say.
Today, make the time to stop, be mindful, present, and listen to Jesus, to our family, our children, our parents, friends, colleagues, and those to whom, in the past, we may not have given the time of day. Jesus came to serve, to love, to listen. May we too give of ourselves with our time and undivided attention directed toward another. If you are in need of a little help on this memorial of St. James, ask for his intercession, “St. James, pray for us.”
Photo: Laughter, a fruit and gift of listening 🙂 photo credit Jack McKee
Chrysostom, St John. Homily. The Liturgy of the Hours: According to the Roman Rite. Vol. 3. NY: Catholic Book Publishing, 1975.
Parallel Gospel passages to review:
Mark 10:35-45; Matthew 20:20-28; Luke 22:24-27 and John 13:12-17