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Life Issues

Over the Easter weekend Bev and I were reading Matthew's account of that period between Jesus' death and resurrection.  Now   I thought I knew pretty well all that took place in those hours  in which the whole cosmos held its collective breath. Could it be that the world would be plunged back darkness because the Prince of Death had successfully destroyed the mission of Jesus by manipulating  his agents to secure the death of his great enemy, Jesus of Nazareth who is the Lord of Glory.

Of course, that is the "big picture" scenario with huge ramifications for the whole of creation. But there were any number of personal histories being written at that time.

To get to the observation that challenged me today, we need to go back to an event recorded in Matthew 20/20. when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, together with their mother were lobbying Jesus to appoint the two sons to positions of power and authority when Jesus established His Kingdom. It's the mother's involvement that caught my attention because of something that happened subsequently. Listen first to her request:

 "In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honour next to you, one on your right and the other on your left". Jesus' answer got right to the point. "You don't know what you are asking"! 

Indeed, she doesn't!!

[In Luke's gospel it is the two brothers who make this rather bold request whereas, in Matthew's gospel, it is their mother who is said to have made this request. This is not a contradiction. The explanation is simple. The three of them went to Jesus. Luke, for whatever reasons, focused on the men. Matthew, again for reasons known to himself, reported the mother's part in this strategy.]

Now we jump from that scenario to the drama that unfolded on a hill called Calvary.

You might recall that the process of the burial of Jesus was observed by a number of women, one of whom was the wife of Zebedee (Matt.27/56). She was also the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee

I imagine her transfixed by the sight before her. The bloodied body of Jesus hanging on the cross.  That was Jesus coming into His Kingdom. It was a Kingdom established through suffering, not at all like the all-conquering hero that I believe Mrs. Zebedee (and countless other Jews) anticipated!   Now, as she looked at the King on that cross, she also saw two men crucified with Jesus, one on His right hand and the other on his left hand.  

"One on His right hand and the other on his left hand". Why did that have a familiar 'ring' about it? Perhaps she suddenly remembered why that description demanded her attention? Did she think back to that time when she asked that those two positions to be reserved for her sons? "In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honour next to you, one on your right and the other on your left".

I wonder what she now thought about the request that she and her two sons had made of Jesus?

No wonder Jesus told her that she had no idea what she was asking! What did she imagine the Kingdom of Jesus would look like? Most probably she thought in terms of position, status, authority and power. I think it is a reasonable position to say that she did not think in terms of sacrifice and the giving of one's life to save others.

This meditation triggers a number of questions and observations for me.

(1)  We in the western world usually have a very poor theology of suffering - if we have one at all! Despite the fact that the Bible refers again and again to the reality of suffering, we seem bent on finding ways to exempt ourselves from this dimension of the Christian life. [I'd recommend that you get a concordance, open at "suffering" and note the many, many times that word occurs as it relates to the Christian life]

Of course I am not suggesting that we ought to pursue suffering in and of itself but I am saying that we are in very real need of developing a Biblical theology of suffering. I fear that we in the western world have accepted 'triumphalism' and the 'prosperity gospel' as the New Testament norm. It's interesting that neither of those two "theologies" have any place for suffering in their doctrinal position.

(2)  Parents, when you pray for your children, what do you ask of the King for them?  Wealth? Health? Security? Safety? Power? Prestige? Would Jesus say to you and me, "You have no idea what you are asking for!!" Of course we want the very best for our children. What parent wouldn't? But we want God's best for them which may not necessarily align with what we think is their best.

(3)  When you counsel them concerning life's values, career choices, relationship priorities, sacrificial living and the like, does your counsel reflect the values of this world or the values of God's Kingdom? Would Mrs. Zebedee and her two sons have made that request had they understood that to be on the left hand or the right hand of Jesus may well involve suffering?

Maybe we will close our reflection at this point by recalling something that Jesus said to His disciples, including James and John, the sons of Zebedee.

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve others and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20/28)

 

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