Sons of Zebedee and What they Wanted
The Gospel reading for February 28th is from Matthew 20. Below are the key verses we talked about, 20-23, the mother of James and John helicoptering in to look out for the interests of her sons. The story is told earlier in Mark 10, the earliest of the Gospels, but without the motherly intervention. Here are both selections from the NAB.
Matthew 20:20-23 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him 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.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left (, this) is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
Mark 10:35-40 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” He replied, “What do you wish (me) to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Many differences between Mark and Matthew are explained in terms of Matthew being the Gospel targeted at the Jews. That is given, for example, as the reason “Kingdom of God” in Mark is often “Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthew, a recognition of the Jewish reluctance to say the name of God. It is hard to see why that would have been the reason Matthew added in mom, but maybe to give James and John a bit more stature. A footnote in the Catholic Study Bible suggests the possibility that “…he intends an allusion to Bathsheba’s seeking the kingdom for Solomon” in 1 Kings 1:11-21. That allusion would be very important and familiar to Jewish people. In both versions of the story, Jesus directs his answer to James and John.
Well, at least the main point for us is clear in both versions: We are to serve rather than seek status. At least I believe that is the main point.
Blind Folks and What they Wanted
I looked for other cases in which Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” or “What do you wish me to do for you?” and found only three. All three are different versions of the same story involving healing of blindness. In the earliest version (Mark), there is one blind man with a name, Bartimaeus, calling out for “Jesus, son of David.” In Matthew, there are two unnamed blind men calling out “Lord, son of David.” And, in Luke, one unnamed man. In all three versions, the healed “follow” Jesus, but, only in Luke do the healed give glory to God, resulting in all the people praising God. It can help us understand these differences to remember that all three Gospel writers were Divinely inspired and writing theological truth at different times and to different audiences. Here are the three stories:
Matthew 20:29-34 As they left Jericho, a great crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “(Lord,) Son of David, have pity on us!” The crowd warned them to be silent, but they called out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on us!” Jesus stopped and called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with pity, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight, and followed him.
Mark 10:46-52 They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage; get up, he is calling you.” He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
Luke 18:35 – 19:1 Now as he approached Jericho a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging, and hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” The people walking in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent, but he kept calling out all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Then Jesus stopped and ordered that he be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He replied, “Lord, please let me see.” Jesus told him, “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God. When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.
Apparently healing of physical blindness is a metaphor for curing the spiritual blindness of the disciples and helping them (and us) understand the truth about who Jesus was and what his mission was as explained in Philippians 2:5-11. That is a lesson we can all work on learning better. Father Linsky suggested these verses from Philippians as a good explanation:
Philippians 2:5-11 Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
There seemed to be a general feeling that the Retreat presented a challenge to increase our cooperation with The Holy Spirit, to take a step in the right direction, to turn up the heat just a bit, to do some unemcumbering. In that spirit, the John Henry Newman poem Pillar of the Cloud or Lead Kindly Light was mentioned. Some analysis is HERE and the lyrics and a photo are copied below from that site.
Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home —
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene — one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will; remember not past years.
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.
And, for the truly curious, here is more on John Henry Newman.