The Seat of Honor
In high school I went to a boarding school where we ate all of our meals in a large dining room, table cloths and all, where we were supposed to learn the rules of etiquette. We even had fellow students who rotated as waiters. Now the coveted “waiter” position (think the servants on Downton Abbey serving the Earl) was to get to serve the head table. It was at the end of the dining hall and decked out with a white table cloth, china, and silver. That was where the VIPs sat—the president, his family, and any distinguished guests. Now your seat at this table automatically signaled your rank of importance. I share all this because this is probably as close as I can get in my life experience to understand why the mother of James and John came to Jesus, bowed down, and made this request.
“And He said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said, ‘That these, my two sons, may sit—one at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom?’” Matthew 20:21
I’ve heard sermons rail against the ambition of this mother and her two boys, but Jesus doesn’t reprimand her for asking. Her request proved that they believed in His Kingdom, and they wanted to be first in line in taking initiative to achieve a place of honor. What they didn’t get is that, before Jesus sits down on His throne at the culmination of the Book of Revelation, He would first hang on a cross and there would be a criminal on His left and on His right. In the Matthew narrative Jesus goes on to talk about a cup of suffering that both James and John would drink—the suffering of the cross, suffering and even dying because of their allegiance to Jesus. Jesus indicated that His Father would determine the positions of honor in the Kingdom, positions that are still open, but the path up this ladder is not our human initiative and skill. It is not sitting at the head table, but, instead, picking up a platter and serving others now.
LORD, I like to sit at the fancy tables in the position of respect and honor. Help me, instead, to take the role of a servant and wait on others. In the classroom this week help me to be more focused on what my students are actually internalizing from your Word as I serve them, and not on the titles and the honor that can become so important in an academic setting.
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