Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” Matthew 20:20-21
Kids always want to be first. They push to get the first sip at the water fountain. They want to be first down the sliding board. My children fuss to get the first slice of cake or to be first to kiss their daddy hello in the evenings. All of this pushiness and selfish behavior – how rude! But sometimes we mommies can get pushy, too.
Mothers love their children and see the potential for their greatness. When I coached high school softball, the parents often kept me on my toes, because they wanted their child to have the first opportunity to perform and achieve. I tried to relate to their concerns, but it wasn’t until I was a mother sitting in the stands while my daughter was skipped over in the batting rotation during a tee ball game that I understood that powerful emotion that wells up when a mother senses her child being short-changed. The emotion can sweep over a mother without any warning, whether it’s about sports teams, spelling bees, prom dates, church choir solos, accelerated classes at school, or even long lines at the amusement park. If we’re going to teach our children to put others first, we’ve got to learn to be at peace when other people begin piling up before our child in line.
The mother of James and John had lofty ambitions for her sons. She sensed great leadership potential in her two boys, and she came to Jesus along with James and John, hoping to secure the promise that they would be pushed to the head of the line when Jesus began passing down honors and positions. Little did she or her sons realize that their future moments of glory would have nothing to do with cushy positions of authority and leisure, and everything to do with hardship and self-sacrifice. What motivated the mother of James and John to talk to Jesus on their behalf? After all, if she believed her sons to be the best choices for leadership in Jesus’ kingdom, shouldn’t such mighty men be able to talk with Jesus about holding rank without their mother having to intervene? I have often wondered if she was driven by her own pride to push for their promotion. No mom enjoys watching her child sit on the bench, and the mother of James and John didn’t want to watch other men enjoying power and position instead of her own sons.
Jesus said, “‘If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35b). Paul taught, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil. 2:3). These principles look good on paper and we easily agree to teach them to our children, but how we react when our children aren’t placed on the top of the list will teach more to them than what we say in theory. Take heart and remember, there’s great value in a child learning to be second, or third, or even passed over, as preparation for putting others first for the cause of the gospel.