Matthewby Mike Raiter
Weren't you listening to me?″ How many times has a frustrated parent asked this of a child who, when told to do something, immediately went out and did the complete opposite?
It is not surprising that Jesus grew exasperated with the disciples' inability to listen and understand. He has just told a story about grace, demonstrating that the values of the kingdom overturn worldly values (Matthew 20:1-16). Then, in this passage (vv. 17-19), He again reminds them of His imminent humiliating death on a cross. It is incredible, then, that the disciples should turn around and start to argue among themselves about power and greatness (vv. 20-28).
With the support of their mother, James and John ask Jesus to give them the pre-eminent places of authority when He comes into His kingdom (Mark 10:35-37). Of course, they still expected this to be an earthly, political kingdom. Jesus tells them that they have no idea what they are asking for. In particular, they do not understand that in God's kingdom, the path to greatness is through the road of humility and suffering. There is no crown without a cross.
The disciples will learn this painful lesson themselves later in their lives: James will be beheaded (Acts 12:1-2) and John exiled (Revelation 1:9).
The request from the mother of James and John provokes a jealous response from the disciples (v. 24) and so Jesus reminds them that secular models of power simply have no place among God's people (vv. 25-27). His own life modelled this, particularly His self-sacrificial, substitutionary death for them (v. 28). Appropriately, the passage concludes with two beggars crying out for sight (vv. 29-34), and receiving something physically the disciples still lack spiritually.
Much of church history, ancient and contemporary, is a tragic reminder that many Christian leaders have not taken Jesus' words to heart. Too many have clamoured for titles and positions of power for the wrong reasons: there is a persistent temptation to desire the acclaim and benefits that come with such positions. Every minister of the gospel must remain always at the foot of the cross, and be reminded that the cup he or she drinks in Christ's service is the cup of suffering.
Is it wrong to seek positions of power in the church? What makes a Christian understanding of power and leadership radically different from that of the world?
What do you think is the significance of Matthew telling us the story of the two blind beggars (vv. 29-34) immediately after recounting the request by the mother of James and John (vv. 20-28)?