“Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Humility is again a key concept, as it was yesterday, as we move to a scene a bit earlier in Matthew (20:17-28), with Jesus and His apostles making their way toward Jerusalem.  First Jesus foretells His imminent trial, passion, death, and resurrection.  Astonishingly, the scene immediately turns to the mother of the apostles James and John, who asks Jesus to “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” (v. 21)  When the other ten become upset at these two, Jesus uses this as an opportunity to teach the importance of humility (see above) using His own life and mission as an example: ‘”Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (v. 28)  Time after time in the gospels, Jesus stresses the importance of a life of humility and service in His words and, more importantly, in His life and deeds.  He does this also as the living Word of the Old Testament and the various letters of the New.  One cannot help but think that John, when later he was standing at the foot of the cross, must have recalled all of Jesus’ and Scripture’s teaching on humility, but in particular the episode with his mother and brother.  There Jesus was in front of him fulfilling the prophecy that prefaced that scene.  On top of that, to the left and right were two men with Jesus as He was about to enter His kingdom.  From their “thrones” one reviled Jesus, but the other, in humility, recognized his sin and unworthiness but asked Jesus to remember Him.  Then came the consoling words: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:43)  It must have hit John like a ton of bricks what was to be in store for him, and what his disposition must be, if he aspired to sit with Jesus in His Kingdom.  As for his brother, James, to whom John undoubtedly relayed this poignant scene, he was to receive the honor of being the first apostle to be martyred (cf. Acts 12:2), thus joining Jesus and the good thief in heaven.  John was destined to live a long life, but suffered white (i.e., bloodless) martyrdom through a long life of persecution, exile, and failed attempts to have him killed.  James and John may not have known what they were asking at the time, but ultimately they were able to “drink the chalice that I am going to drink.” (v. 23)  It is worthwhile for us to reflect on whether we are ready to follow their lead.

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