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How to be the best

A Mother’s Request - Matthew 20:20-28

· Best,Greatest,Matthew,Disciples,First

Life is all about winning! Right?

It’s so easy to keep score in relationships and at work. It’s why we compare our houses and cars. It’s why we love sports, why we love world records, why we get so caught up with who is the prettiest and attractive.

Why do people love to win?

Why are we so caught up with the best, most powerful, fastest, most…?

While a lot of things have changed from Jesus’ time to now, this need or want to be the greatest has not. This is why this mom came to Jesus in our story today. If you’re a parent, you probably experience the feeling that you really want the best for your kids. Or maybe you can remember a moment when one of your parents acted like this. What kind of woman is this that she would ask the Son of God for a crazy thing? Not just something “powerful”, but she had to know that her sons would have to give up a lot to be a lot in the kingdom.

Matthew 20:20-28

A Mother’s Request

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “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.”


I am not sure how this moment came about. James and John were 20-30 years old at the time, and either way it seems a little weird. Either it was a stop embarrassing me mom moment or a mom can you ask Jesus for us moment. It’d be like your mom calling your boss and asking for you to get a promotion.

What does this mom think she is asking Jesus for?

Maybe it was the overbearing mom:

“Is Jesus treating you guys well?”

“Has he given you guys enough authority?”

The reality is that this mother cared about her sons and cared about their futures. She wanted them to have seats of honor, to be important, to be powerful. Seats of honor are really important to us, even if we don’t want to admit it. It feels pretty good to get invited to some big dinner, or to be invited to hang out with someone you look up to a lot. It feels pretty good to get “called into the office” for a promotion, or invited to a meeting with the pros.

How does it feel to be shown honor? Picked first? Given opportunity?

This mom had to know that there was a chance Jesus would not just reject the request, but potentially call her out and reject her. She knew the law and prophets, and times where people had approached God with the “wrong” things, sometimes to be shot down by him (turned to stone in some occasions…). She took some risk in approaching Jesus with a crazy request and he walked with her through some of the ramifications. Jesus responds to the women’s request by saying:

22 “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.

23 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 for by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 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. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 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.”

These sons said “yes we can drink the cup”.

Do you think they knew what they were signing up for?

Jesus again shows a lot of grace in answering this woman’s request and really explaining things to his disciples. He could have been short and said (in response to the questions) “Okay, well follow me onto the cross then! Time to die soon. You said you want to be great, so, time to be great!” He could have been cryptic or mysterious about it. Instead, he answered questions and told the truth about what he knew.

This is another moment where all of his followers are caught up in what they think is important, and he points out that everyone is essentially missing it. As the group is trying to figure out how to be “the best”, Jesus points out again that being first in the kingdom has nothing to do with lording things over people or trying to gain power over others. Instead, being the “best and greatest” in the kingdom must become a slave, a servant to others. The best is someone who lives sacrificially for the good of others.

This seems to be a common theme that Jesus brings up. We actually talked about this specific thing a week ago.

  • The first will be last.
  • The good shepherd laying his life down for his sheep.
  • Greater love has no one than laying down his life for friends.
  • The greatest among you must be a servant.

Sometimes when we approach God we forget to get outside our own perspective. We get caught up in what we want or need, and while that’s not all bad, it can cause us to not be seeing the entire picture. What would it be like to approach god with needs and desires while also holding onto the perspective of the “first being last”?

How do you feel like you approach God?

When you ask Him for things, do you feel like you understand what you’re asking for?

As we keep talking about our theme for this year of “being an answer to prayer”, sacrifice *action* is central to it. We like to hold on to all the things that are comfortable for us, and sacrifice (action) calls us into the place of laying down many of our comforts and extending ourselves for a greater cause and the sake of others. The disciples were committed to following Jesus and taking up whatever that brought for them, though they didn’t quite know what all the details would look like. In our own lives, I think that’s the first step. Are we willing to say yes to serving, even if we don’t know what that’ll look like or what we will “get”?

What does it look like to be become great by being a servant?

In what ways does “being the greatest” in the kingdom look different from our expectations?

What are you giving your life for?

What sacrifices have you made for others? What sacrifices do you need to make?

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