Jesus, Can I Sit Next to Your Throne?
MAY 4, 2023
“I have terminal cancer.” She said through tears.
After a short pause, her politician husband responded, “I’m thinking about making a run for president.”
If this seems like a cruel and tone-deaf response to bad news, take a minute to read Matthew 20:17-28 in its context.
The tone and seeming cruelty are matched. In the passage, Jesus says, “I’m going to be crucified.” Matthew follows Jesus’s statements of sorrow with the opportunism of the Sons of Thunder and their mother. Jesus will be tried, tortured, and killed not for his own crimes but for theirs. And their response? A non-sequitur of self-seeking. What’s in this for us?
We read these accounts, and we’re tempted to “other” them. “What were those fools thinking? How could you be so selfish?!” But we’re missing the point. It’s not a problem with “other people”; it’s a problem with all of us.
We’re more like them than we’re willing to admit. I’m glad there’s no video footage (or Gospel writer) chronicling every conversation I’ve had with my wife. The times that she’s fallen ill and rather than see an opportunity to serve her, I’ve grumbled about a meeting I couldn’t bear to cancel. Can you relate experiences from your own life? Times when people we claim to love show their weakness and pain, and instead of entering into it, we can only see our own desires.
I’ve never been close to royalty. There is likely a bit of a tension for the children of kings and queens between loving their parents but also desiring the throne they’ll inherit once the parent dies. Contrast that with the disciples of Jesus. They’re following a man who lives on the strand (Luke 9:58) but is the King of a coming Kingdom.
Revealing the imminence of his coming agony, he tacks on one brief comment about the resurrection. Absent from this comment is any mention of the throne he will inhabit, but the Zebedee family is quick to zoom in on that piece. You could imagine the scene of our fictional husband and wife continuing to play out.
“Honey, I just told you I’m dying of cancer.”
“Yes, sweetheart, I heard all of that. But what about me? Can we skip to the part where it’s not about you and all your struggles and get to the part that’s about me?”
Why is it so hard to get out from our self-centeredness? To love others by entering into their pain?
Incredibly, Jesus remains collected, doesn’t take it personally, and informs them their request is misguided. Is it because he knew what was in the hearts of men and didn’t entrust himself to them (John 2:24-25)?
The real twist in this account, however, is the reality that the sin that plagues us is actually a terminal disease. Jesus would die, yes. But not for his own sins. The one-way trip he’d take to Jerusalem was not a terminal condition that caught him off guard but one that he chose. We’re the ones with terminal cancer. Not him! Yet, the gospel of Jesus is that he’d go to Golgotha so that we could go back to the Garden.
He’d drink the cup of wrath so that we could drink a cup of kindness. By his wounds we’d be healed (Isaiah. 53:5). And one day, even exalted.