The relationship between mothers and sons has been a strong bond throughout history. Monarchs, who had more than one wife, could certainly expect the mothers of their sons to act as Public Relations spokespersons on behalf of their offspring. Bathsheba promoted and rooted for her son Solomon in king David’s court. History is replete with stories of mothers acting on behalf of their sons, in order that they might gain a throne and crown.
In our text today we have the mother of James and John (Salome, wife of Zebedee) coming to Jesus requesting that they be allowed to “sit at his (your) right and the other at his (your) left in his (your) kingdom.” In Mark’s version of this story, it is James and John who come to Jesus with this request (Mark 10:35-45). Some say that their mother was inserted into the story in order to make James and John look less ambitions and insensitive. However, the author of Mark frequently goes out of his way to show how clueless the twelve disciples of Jesus are. It is just as reasonable to assume that her part in the story was removed by Mark.
It makes little difference who made the request, for either way it demonstrates unbridled ambition within the community of believers. Now, ambition in and of itself is a good thing. It motivates people to great accomplishments, and is a driving force for great deeds. This is true to a certain extent even in the church. Ambition has no moral value. However, ambition when it is blind or unbridled turns out to be the height of selfishness. It tunes out everything and everyone, in order to pump up the volume of self.
Had Salome’s request (or James and John’s) come at another time, it might have been less inappropriate. Be that as it may, the request did not come in a vacuum. It occurs immediately after Jesus’ third prediction of his coming arrest, trial and crucifixion (and resurrection). However, it is as if they only heard the first part of Jesus’ statement, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man…” In their minds (Salome, James and John) they are headed to Jerusalem at the time of Passover with the man who is the self proclaimed “Son of Man.” He is the man they believe to be the Messiah.
Jesus has been preaching and teaching about the coming kingdom of heaven. As the Messiah, when he arrives in Jerusalem he will surely be crowned king. Salome wants a piece of the action for her sons. She wants them to be important men in the coming kingdom. Whether it is her ambition or the ambition of her sons makes little difference. It is a blind ambition that is not paying attention to anything other than the desires for self.
Have you ever been in a conversation, where the other person (or you) was so intent on what they wanted to say that they could not hear what the other was saying? Selfish desires have a way of closing off our ears, our eyes and our hearts to others. There is no connection between what Salome and her boys want and what Jesus is talking about. Imagine the sadness in Jesus’ heart when he tells them about his coming death and their response is a request about seating arrangements in the coming kingdom. They did not hear him, and they talked right past him.
Imagine the pain in the hearts of the people around us when we do not listen. We can get so caught up in what we want and think we need that we put on blinders. Today, let us all make a concerted effort to remove our blinders, take out our ear plugs and pay attention to others. Let us take a day off from the pursuit of what we want to say and do. Listen to others intently. If we can accomplish just that little bit today, we can try it again tomorrow.
Eastern Orthodox icon of the two Marys and Salome at the Tomb of Jesus (Kizhi, 18th century) Wikipedia