Weekly Bible Devotional
“Down to Earth Lifestyles”
December 15, 2019
Scripture for Sunday: Matthew 20:20-28
“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will 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 about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with 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 ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Notes on the Text:
At first blush, we may think that the request for sitting at the right and left hand of Jesus came out of nowhere, but the disciples had been promised thrones according to Matthew 19:28. They were asking for what they thought to be part of the deal! In the Gospel of Mark, James and John make the request themselves, but in Matthew (which is based on Mark) we have their mother making that request as to soften the selfishness exhibited by these two disciples. But no matter who made the request, we know that they completely misunderstood Jesus’ promise about the thrones. They were still operating from the perspective of the world where power and status were about domination.
In her commentary about the parallel passage in Mark, Barbara Brown Taylor explains that the problem was with their view of the world, “They seem to believe that the new world will be set up just like the old world, only with new leadership in place. The bad guys at the head table will be removed, their chairs will be fumigated and God’s new crew will be seated, with Jesus in the number one position and the most loyal members of his campaign staff on either side of him. Once this change has been accomplished, then finally! at last! the good people will commence to redeem the world from top to bottom, beginning from the top. The ultimate trickle-down effect.”
However, we know from experience and history that this is not how things work. Real and lasting change has to come from the human heart. That is why God takes the long view of history and of our human journey. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “It doesn’t work that way, Jesus tells them one more time. The new world is not remotely like the old one. It turns the old one upside down. The number ones are not the powerful ones having their pictures taken at the head of the table; they are the quiet ones slipping in and out among the guests, refilling wine glasses and laying down clean silverware for the next course. The great ones are not the dignitaries to the left and right of the ruler; they are the slaves who are stirring pots in the kitchen, testing the temperature of the soup so that it is neither too hot nor too cold for the honored guests. James and John want Jesus to hurry up and become king of the world, but Jesus has other things on his mind. Has everyone been served? Is all the food on the table? Does anyone need anything? For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The disciples struggled with Jesus’ path of service and of letting go of power as they understood it. The conflict among the disciples over power and status as Jesus was getting into Jerusalem foreshadowed the conflict that would take place and end in his execution. The powers of the world sought to destroy Jesus because he was seen as a threat to them. His way of transforming the world and of bringing peace was that of service and love.
The pressures and views of the real world about power and success often challenge our ideals and our notions of faith about service and love. When we see and experience the world as it is today, it is hard to let go of the mentality of power, wealth, and domination as the ways to change the world. Just like the disciples struggled over status, we often find ourselves in similar situations. We can learn about being loving, caring, humble, trusting and open in theory and when life is going well, but when it comes to practice, it can be very difficult to apply our head knowledge and to translate it into action.
What helped the disciples was their experience of living with Jesus and practicing daily his way of life. In the same way, what we need is to practice each day a lifestyle that is aligned with the Kingdom of God instead of the kingdoms of the world. Our daily actions and habits can build a foundation for a different way of life. As Richard puts it, “we don’t think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” That is why it is essential to practice each day what we hope our lives would be, even if we fail. James and John did not give up on ministry after this conflict. Jesus did not give up on them because they failed. Instead, he put them to work. They kept on practicing until practice became a way of life for them.
What are some kingdom of God lifestyles that you can practice daily during this season? Which ones are really challenging for you?
John Bell (Iona Community, Scotland)
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my Name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave your self behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoner free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the ‘You’ you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Christ, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show,
thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me?