Mothers of the Bible – The Mother of James and John (Salome?)

29 Mar

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.”
Matthew 20:20-28

Dear God, parents can be so foolish. I’ve seen the wisest people I know lose total perspective when it comes to their children and give bad advice because their judgment is clouded by being a parent. We want what’s best for our children. The problem is, we think we know what that best is when the truth is we have no clue. I suppose it starts from knowing what’s best for our children at the youngest ages. Eat now. Sleep now. Don’t touch that. Clean this. Our will is completely imposed upon them. But at some point in the process of letting go we fail to learn that we no longer have a clue as to what is best for them–what you might be doing in their lives that we cannot see.

In this woman’s case (her name might be Salome, but we aren’t 100% sure), she thought she could see where all of this was going. Jesus was going to have some power and it was time to make sure her boys were positioned to be at the top of the food chain. Maybe they were too meek for her taste. Maybe they had understood more of what Jesus was teaching than she had and knew better than to ask. But then they were too weak to tell her no. They might have secretly wanted this, but they might have also just been going along with her. Either way, she made her position very clear. This is what she wanted for her sons.

Ironically, her two boys would end up being at opposite ends of the life spans for the 11 remaining disciples after Judas killed himself. James would be the first to die as a martyr, and John would die of natural causes and be the last living of the original 12. Going back to what I learned from my study contrasting Peter and John, John was actually pretty immature and had a lot to learn from Jesus before the crucifixion. He was always ready to bring down fire from heaven to wipe out the Samaritans or whatever. Those rough edges were certainly worn down by the time he wrote his gospel and the three letters we have from him. No, you had a very different plan for these boys’ lives than his mother did. She loved you. She believed in you. But she was very foolish in this moment. But better to love you and be foolish, I suppose, than to just be selfish all of the time.

I guess I do kind of wonder about her concern for her boys. Their father was a man of some position in that he at least owned a boat and had others working for him. When they left to follow Jesus I’m sure his parents were concerned at first. How would they ever become respectable people capable of supporting a family? Maybe this request was part of her trying to answer that question for herself. Maybe she felt pressure to figure out how to calm her husband down from any disapproval he might have had about their decision to leave the boat and follow Jesus. I’m guessing on all of this, but my point is that there are all kinds of reasons we act foolishly. There are all kinds of reasons that I act foolishly.

Father, I think the “Serenity Prayer” from 12-Step programs is brilliant and it encompasses most of how I should be praying for myself and my children and then acting. So as I type this prayer out now, may it be in my perspective as a parent and for my wife and myself as well: “God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” [emphasis mine]

In Jesus’s name I pray,



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