“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, ‘What do you wish?’
She answered him,
‘Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.'” [Matthew 20:20-21]
The mother in today’s Gospel is not alone; many of Jesus’ contemporaries presumed his talk of “kingdom” would follow the patterns of the kingdoms of the day—supreme ruler, loyal subject, brutal slaughter of dissenters. It’s no wonder she wanted security and position for her sons.
We still cling fiercely to security and position centuries later, even having had time to ponder the meaning of Christ’s kingdom.
It raises a question for me: what do I look at every day and presume I understand—keeping me oblivious to its true meaning?
When it comes to the power dynamic of which Jesus speaks, this too is something we might believe we understand, but toward which we humans are still working. When I teach my students about justice, we talk about fostering a balance of power, grounded in kinship. Jesus does not use his supreme power as a weapon. Nor does he deny it. He exercises a balance of power—to give blessing, perform miracles, correct injustice—while reclining at table with a variety of folks, reveling in the kinship of being a human being.
If we are educated, housed, clothed, healthy U.S. citizens, we hold a tremendous amount of power on the planet, not to mention the privileges that may be ours, bidden or unbidden, because of our gender identity, sexual orientation, ability status, or perceived race.
Where is God showing us how to exercise our power? Where does God wish us to show restraint…perhaps even to decline privileges or powers that others may wish to place upon us?