20 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.’
Mothers are doctors, counselors, chauffeurs, coaches cooks. Most mothers work outside the home these days, but most still understand that reading a book aloud to a child is more important than mopping the kitchen. Mothers are developers of personalities and shapers of attitudes. Mothers are soft voices saying, "I love you," and mothers are a link to God. They are our first impression of God’s love.
Erma Bombeck wrote a column about when God created mothers.
When the good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of "overtime" when the angel appeared and said, "You're doing a lot of fiddling around on this one."
And the Lord said, "Have you read the specs on this order? --
She has to be completely washable, but not plastic; Have 180 movable parts . . . all replaceable; Run on black coffee and leftovers; Have a lap that disappears when she stands up; A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair; And six pairs of hands...
The angel shook her head slowly and said, "Six pairs of hands . . . no way."
"It's not the hands that are causing me problems," said the Lord. "It's the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have."
"That's on the standard model?" asked the angel.
The Lord nodded.
"One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, 'What are you kids doing in there?' when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn't but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, 'I understand and I love you' without so much as uttering a word."
"Lord," said the angel, touching His sleeve gently, "Come to bed. Tomorrow . . ."
"I can't," said the Lord, "I'm so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick . . . can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger . . . and can get a nine year-old to stand under a shower."
The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. "It's too soft," she sighed.
"But tough!" said The Lord excitedly. "You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure."
The angel asked, "Can it think?"
"Not only think, but it can reason and compromise," said The Creator.
Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. "There's a leak," she pronounced. "I told You You were trying to put too much into this model."
"It's not a leak," said the Lord, "It's a tear."
"What's it for?" asked the angel.
"It's for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride," The Lord replied.
"You are a genius," said the angel.
The Lord looked somber. "I didn't put it there," he said.
[Retrieved from http://www.eurekapresbyterianchurch.com/newsletters/may2007.pdf]
Perhaps Bombeck's column can help us understand the mother of James and John. We do not know her name. We will just call her Mrs. Zebedee. Mrs. Zebedee was aware of the teachings of Jesus about His kingdom. She also knew that her sons, James and John, were close to Jesus. They were two-thirds of the inner circle of disciples which consisted of Peter, James, and John. So she thought that she had to good reason to hope that when the Lord formed His kingdom that they would have positions of power and authority.
But in the first part of this same chapter, Jesus told a parable that must have disturbed her, if she heard it. We do not know that the mother of the sons Zebedee was in the audience that heard the parable, but it would explain her actions if she did. This is the parable of the vineyard. A landowner went out to find laborers early in the morning to work in his vineyard. They agreed upon a fair day’s wage and started working. Then at noon the same landowner went out and found some more workers, and they started working. Then towards evening he went out and found some more. Yet, when landowner paid them off at the end of the day, they all received the same wage. Clearly the landowner represents God, and that would have caused Mrs. Zebedee to wonder, "Will my sons really have positions of authority in the Lord’s new kingdom, or will they simply receive the same wages as every other disciple?"
So when the opportunity presented itself she came to the Lord. The gospel says that she bowed before Him and made this petition, "When you establish your kingdom, give the seats on your right and left hand to my two sons."
Now I know what you are thinking. Here is another pushy parent, trying to advance her kids at the expense of everyone else. Anyone who has ever coached a youth sports team has met this kind of parent. “I want my kid to start. I want my kid to be on the front row. I want my kid to have the first place.” And maybe all that is true of Mrs. Zebedee, but since today is Mother’s Day, perhaps we ought to consider some positive things about her prayer request.
First of all, she came to Jesus. She came to the right person. She came with her sons. They were kneeling before him. She has a prayer request for her kids—even though her kids are grown men. Jesus did not grant her request, but neither did he deny it. He simply reminded her of the cost of being seated on the right or left and then told her that the heavenly Father determines who will be seated there. God gives out the places of honor in the kingdom, and pushy parents do not have any say in the matter.
But think about her request. She asked that her sons might have a part in the Kingdom of God. This is a mother who has her head on straight. She know what is important for her children. It does not matter whether they are doctors or lawyers or Indian chiefs. What is important is their part in the Kingdom. So she prayed for them.
Now, I know that many mothers pray. Sometimes they pray out of desperation. James Dobson tells about a terrible day for his wife. His son, Ryan, was a small baby, and Ryan had been sick, and had cried all day. Once, as she was changing his diapers, the telephone rang and Shirley reached over to answer it before fastening up his diapers. Just then Ryan had an attack of diarrhea. She cleaned up that mess and put him in clean, sweet-smelling clothes. Then she took him into the living room and fed him. As she was burping him, he threw up all over himself, and her, and the couch. Dobson writes, "When I came home I could smell the aroma of motherhood everywhere." Shirley cried out to him, "Was all of this in my contract?" Sometimes mothers pray just out of frustration.
Then again sometimes our parent-child problems are caused by a failure to communicate. I heard a story about a father who told his two-year-old son to watch his baby sister, while he stepped out of the room for just a moment. It was not a wise parenting decision as he shortly discovered. He was barely out of the room when he heard a thump, and the baby started crying. He rushed back in to find that the baby had fallen off the couch and was stretched out on the floor. Meanwhile, his son just sat there “Why didn't you watch your sister,” screamed the father. The son replied, "I did." He watched her fall; he watched her cry; he did exactly as he was told.
Being a parent is not easy. That is why prayer is so necessary for parenting.
But let us return to Mrs. Zebedee. What good is it if our children are successful in making money, and owning all the latest gadgets, but they do not know God? What does it matter if they gain the whole world, but lose their souls? Mrs. Zebedee is a valuable example in parenting. She prayed earnestly that her sons would be part of kingdom of God. I hope that every mother and father has a burden to go to the throne of God and pray for their children. We should pray that they will have a home in the New Jerusalem, that they will have eternal life in Christ.
Not only did Mrs. Zebedee pray that her children would be a part of the kingdom, she prayed that they would be actively involved in the work of the kingdom. It is not enough just to make some kind of a profession of faith. Real faith requires real commitment and real work. There is an old saying that 90% of the work of the church is done by 10% of the people. Plenty of people want to just to fill a pew on Sunday mornings. They are willing to sit back and receive the blessings, but seldom do they get involved in actually doing anything in the church.
But where does the spirit of service begin? It begins with mothers and fathers setting the example and praying that their daughters and sons might be involved in the work of the kingdom that their daughters and sons might be the ones who point out where God is working and go to work there, and lead others by their example.
Then we should note that Mrs. Zebedee had great expectations. She did not just pray that her children would be doorkeepers in the kingdom. She wanted them on the right hand and left hand of Jesus. In the banquet halls of first century Palestine, these were places of honor. She recognizes Jesus as the host of the banquet. The places of highest honor would be immediately to his left and right. She wants those places for her sons.
She is brash, she is presumptuous, but I admire her boldness. Too often we settle for mediocrity in the church. For too long we have been content with just barely making it through the door. We have been content to sit back and let things happen. It is time for us to step up, to do our part in molding and fashioning the church. The Lord calls us to be His disciples, to be effective laborers in His kingdom.
In the Erma Bombeck column I read earlier, as he was creating a mother, God said that he was creating something much like himself. I suppose that is why today is special - because we recognize that mother’s love is probably the closest example we have to God’s love. It is a love that goes through the valley of the shadow of death to bring life into being. It is a love that sacrifices itself over and over again and would even dare to lay down its life for its own offspring.
I recently read the story of Solomon Rosenberg and his family. The story takes place during WWII. Solomon Rosenberg, his wife, their two sons, his mother and father were arrested and placed in a Nazi concentration camp. The rules of the camp were simple: "As long as you work, you live. When you become too weak to work, you die." Rosenberg watched as the Nazis marched his mother and father off to their deaths, and he knew that next would be his youngest son, David, because David had always been a frail child. Every evening Rosenberg came back into the barracks and searched for the faces of his family. When he found them they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. One day Rosenberg came back and did not see those familiar faces. He finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, weeping. He said, "Josh, tell me it’s not true." Joshua sadly replied, "It is true, poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work. So they came for him." "But where is your mother?" asked Solomon Rosenberg. "Oh poppa," Joshua said, "When they came for David, he was afraid and he cried. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she took his hand and went with him."
[Retrieved from http://witandwisdom.org/archive/20060523.htm]
That is motherhood. That is the love of a mother that is so like the love of God. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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