Thrive: The Request – Valerie Burton


Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
—Matthew 20:20-28

The mother of James and John may have been the first “helicopter parent,” one hovering a little too closely to her children as they climbed the ladder of discipleship. She falls into the stereotypical portrayal of all Jewish mothers who want nothing less than the best for her boys. I can see her dragging them by the ears into the company of Jesus, where they stand embarrassed by their mother’s question. Yet, when he asks if they will follow him to the bitter end, they say they will. I think that is when their eyes met, and Jesus looks straight into their loyal hearts. Regardless of what momma was asking (making them do), these boys meant to stand by him on earth as well as in heaven.

Other biblical brothers are known for their competitive backbiting: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his gang of brothers. But we do not hear backbiting when it comes to the Sons of Zebedee, nor do we hear it from their brothers in the faith, the other ten disciples. That is, until the ten hear about momma’s maneuver to get her boys in the coach’s box. Then they are rather ticked off.

I once heard of a community that practiced the “one-another clauses.” When it came to how they treated each other, they followed the verses that say, “Love one another, bear with each other, be devoted to and honor one another.” What if brothers and sisters actually sought to serve the other first—you know, acted like family to one another? In the words of Frederick Buechner, “We all have the same dark secrets and the same bright hopes. We come from the same place and are headed in the same direction. Above everything else maybe, we all want to be known by each other and to know each other.”

As those who serve communities of faith, let us be first only in the line of service to our parishioners.

val.crop_2_smValerie Burton serves as the Minister for Christian Formation at Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala. She is a graduate of Belmont University, Nashville, and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. She has served churches in Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama for 25 years. Valerie enjoys a rich and full life with her husband Allan, their two young sons, and one old dog.

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