New Testament in 6 months – day 16

17 Apr

Matthew 20:17-21:22
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” 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.” As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written, ” he said to them, “ ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

The beginning of this passage pick up the theme from the end of yesterday’s, that of the upside down nature of Heaven. And it is clearly important that Jesus reiterated this because James and John’s mother asks Jesus for places of honour to be given to her sons. She clearly has no idea what she is asking or she would never have asked! And her comment leads to possibly the most ill-informed declaration in the Bible, because when their mother has asked about the places of honour Jesus replies by asking them “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” and they say yes! But, as Jesus commented before this, she (and they) don’t know what is being asked. Because Jesus’ “cup” is that of suffering and painful death, something which I am sure that neither James and John, nor their mother, would have considered even though only just before all this Jesus has again declared that he will “mocked and flogged and crucified” before being raised back to life.
But, after pointing out that it is not for Him to give places of honour in Heaven, Jesus then reminds them all about what he had said just before about the order of things in His Kingdom. And he does so now in greater detail, for before it was merely “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” but now Jesus spells out what that means. He tells them that in order to be great, you have to become humble. In order to be first you must become the least in society’s ranking of worth. If you wish to be the greatest in Heaven then you must serve all, even the least, on earth as a slave. It is counter-intuitive logic because it tells them they must do the opposite of their desire in order to get their desire, kind of like telling Usain Bolt that in order to be the fastest man in the world he must become the slowest, or in order to win a race then he must come last. It doesn’t make any sense!
But this is because the way that the world thinks is not the same as how God thinks. His values are completely different to the world we live in. Because the greatest in Heaven is the one who would give up everything, even their life, in the service of others.
It is a challenge to all of us as we are surrounded by a world that declares that if we want to be great we have to look out for ourselves and make ourselves the most important thing in our lives. Yet Jesus tells us that this is not what God wants. He wants us to put others first, and by doing this we can become great. You can’t get more counter-cultural AND counter-intuitive than that!

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