Red Letter Year: 5/9

Matthew 20:17-34

17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. 18 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. 19 Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

20 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

22 But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

23 Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

29 As Jesus and the disciples left the town of Jericho, a large crowd followed behind. 30 Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

31 “Be quiet!” the crowd yelled at them.

But they only shouted louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

32 When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”

33 “Lord,” they said, “we want to see!” 34 Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him.


Having just told a parable showing that the kingdom of God in unlike self-interested economic practices, Jesus reiterates that he is going to be arrested, executed, and resurrected. The last time Jesus brought this up, Peter rebuked him and earned a stern response from Jesus. This time no one counters him directly, but the mother of James and John tries to change the subject, asking  Jesus about what will happen after he drives out the Romans and takes over rule of Israel. Her sons are quick to assure Jesus they are ready for key leadership roles in his new political regime. This shows that they still did not understand what Jesus was about. His response tells us that the self-interest of all political rulers is an assumed fact for Jesus, he has not come to challenge them within the confines of their own systems. His challenge is broader and deeper and involves creating a community that serves as a prophetic witness against all constructions of power founded on self-interest. This means his kingdom must be built on a foundation of self-sacrifice, of service, of authority that takes joy in the flourishing of those it serves, not in its control of them. This passage reminds us that followers of Jesus (even ones closest to him) are as prone to grasp and flaunt power as others are and that such moves are self-defeating for those who want to do kingdom work.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.