It’s been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. In our gospel lesson this morning, we find this mother doing all she can to advance the careers of her children. Bypassing social protocols, she goes to Jesus in order to try and secure her sons’ admission into a prestigious position in Jesus’ coming Kingdom. Of course, the backlash was immediate and filled with anger and jealousy. 2000 years later and we find a story in the news about parents doing what they can to advance their children’s careers. Bypassing social protocols, they cheat and try to buy their children’s admission into prestigious colleges. And, just like back then, the backlash was immediate and filled with anger and jealousy. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There is one difference, of course, between Mrs. Zebedee and today’s parents involved in the college cheating scandal. While none of the parents, past and present, actually have faith in their own children, Mrs. Zebedee did have faith in Jesus.
Her request, as much as it might have upset the other disciples, was in fact an act of faith. She believed that Jesus was the Messiah. She believed that Jesus had come to set Israel free, and deep down, she knew in her heart, that one day, Jesus would take his place upon the throne, and rule, not only over Israel, but over the world. By faith, she asked for her sons to have special places of power in Jesus’ coming Kingdom. The problem, however, was she really didn’t understand Jesus’ mission. For that matter, none of the disciples really understood what Jesus’ mission was all about.
On several occasion, prior to this story, Jesus told his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem. He told them that he would be betrayed into the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law. He told them that he would be condemned and hand me over to the Gentiles, that he would be beaten and mocked, that he would be crucified. Of course, Jesus also told them that on the third day, he would he raised again to life. So, nothing Jesus was getting ready to do was a secret, but it also wasn’t understood by the disciples. They just didn’t understand about power or about the cross.
Mrs. Zebedee, and her boys, had in mind the same idea that most people have, which is that grasping for power is the solution to everything. With enough power in hand, one could solve the problems of the world. I look at the politicians of our country and it is easy to see this incessant grasping for power. Is it any wonder that there is no cooperation and working together for the good of the country? Each side thinks that if they could just get a strangle hold on power, then they could fix everything. But, such power never fixes.
Of course, we don’t have to look that far away to see how grasping for power wreaks havoc. We can see it in our communities, in our families and even in our churches. Anywhere that you can division, anywhere that you can see relationships torn apart, anywhere that you can see people stubbornly refusing to come together for the greater good and you will discover that at the root of it all is a grasping for power. This shouldn’t surprise us. This goes all the way back to the beginning.
The man and the woman in the garden grabbed for power, and look what it got them. First they started blaming each other for their mistakes and problems. Then there was the overwhelming heartache that came when one of their sons rose up and killed their other son.
Then there was Jacob. He was always grabbing for power, first from his brother Esau, then from his father and later his uncle. Instead of making his life better, grasping for power only made his life worse. God finally had to wrestle Jacob to the ground before he understood that power was not the answer.
Of course, who could forget David, Israel’s greatest king. God gave David all the power that David needed and what did he do, he went grasping for more. Yet, all he got was more headache and heartache. His family was torn apart. He was betrayed by his own son, and in the end, his kingdom was divided. It wasn’t until it was too late did David realize that grasping for power always destroys.
That is the truth that Mrs. Zebedee and her boys just didn’t understand. Grasping for power always destroys; it destroys the people around you and ends up destroying you as well. Why? Because, grasping for power is an act of theft. In order to grasp for power, you need to take it from someone else, you need to take from someone else what does not belong to you. The man and the woman in the garden, when they were grasping for power, stole from God. Jacob, when he was grasping for power, stole from his family. Finally, David stole from Uriah and Bathsheba when he was grasping for power. And, in order to hold onto that power, you have to continue taking from others.
With all of that taking and grasping going on, there is no room for love in one’s heart. That is why the person who grasps for power does not love God. The person who grasps for power does not love his neighbor, because one cannot steal from others and love them at the same time. When one let’s go of power, however, then there is room for love. When one let’s go of power, then that person becomes the person who gives to others. Giving and loving go hand in hand. It is that act of giving and loving which is why Jesus was going to Jerusalem.
If there is anyone who could have grasped for power, it was Jesus. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, Jesus could have grasped for power when he was tempted by Satan in the desert. But, Jesus knew that grasping for power was the reason why this world was in such a mess to begin with. So, instead, Jesus was letting go of power, Jesus was taking up the cup of my God’s wrath. As Isaiah reminds us, the cup of God’s wrath was very great against the sin of the world.
Many times in the past, God had poured out sips of his wrath upon the sin of humankind. Yet, never before had God unleashed the fullness of his wrath, until now. Once and for all, God was going to pour out his wrath against the sin of humankind. God’s cup is filled to the brim and he is ready for humankind to drink it until the very last drop is consumed.
However, there is a twist. What Mrs. Zebedee and her boys didn’t understand was that humankind would not be made to drink the cup of God’s wrath. Instead, God would drink the cup of his own wrath, through Jesus.
When Jesus goes to Jerusalem, I will be so that he can hand himself over to those who want nothing more than to grasp for power. Jesus will be beaten and mocked. He will be crucified. The cross will be his throne, and, there will be one person on his right and one on his left. Yet, in doing this, Jesus will let go of all power. Jesus will drink the cup of God’s wrath, in order to ransom humankind. In refusing to grasp for power, Jesus will be giving love to all of God’s people.
For the past several weeks, we have been talking about the grace of God and how God’s grace is available to us every day. In the same way that we pray and ask for our daily bread, we can and should pray asking for our daily grace. As we saw last week, the grace can come to us for a variety of reasons.
When faced with temptation, we admit that we are sinners and pray for the grace to be the person God has called us to be, a person who loves God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, a person who loves our neighbor as ourselves.
When we lack the freedom to serve God with our whole hearts, like the rich, young man that we read about last week, we pray asking for the grace to be free from whatever is getting in the way of our relationship with God.
In light of this week’s gospel lesson, when faced with the desire to grasp for power, which will only hurt us and every else in the long run, we pray asking for the grace to choose love instead of power, love for God and love for one another.
Mrs. Zebedee didn’t know what she was asking, neither did her boys, by the way, because they didn’t understand. Power is not the answer. For where there is a grasping for power, there is no love. But, when power is let go, love can be found. And, love is the answer to this broken down world of ours. Love is what is finally going to set everything right. Jesus understood this, which is why Jesus was taking up the cross, to begin to set everything right. For, the way of cross, is the way of love. As we continue to ask for our daily grace, may we ask for the grace of the cross.