We’re at the beginning in our country of a political election cycle that is unusual in the number of people who have declared their candidacy for President of the United States. There are, at last count, 17 people who have entered the race. This number will be winnowed shortly as televised debates and state primaries are held – and then there is the question of money. It is impossible to win an election here these days (even to lesser positions in state and local elections) unless you have what has come to be known as a substantial “war chest” – in other words, a lot of money. One comes to wonder about the motivation of candidates; is their overarching desire for power or service? It’s never as simple as that, of course, but it’s necessary to listen deeply to not only the messages but also the actions of candidates throughout their lives in making decisions about the values they hold and their fitness for office. The witness of key people in the life of a candidate can also give a sense of who the person has been in life re: authenticity and humility – two qualities harder to determine as “the race heats up.”
The mother of the sons of Zebedee was a politician – direct and to the point. In today’s gospel (MT 20:20-28) she approaches Jesus wanting to ask him something. She obviously has not been listening very well to his preaching about humility and service because when Jesus asks her what she wants she replies: “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus assures her that she has no idea what she’s asking; his “kingdom” is not about worldly power first of all. He turns to her sons (who should have been mortified at the request, I think) and asks if they “can drink the cup” that he is going to drink. They have no idea either of what he’s talking about but, feeling the sense of entitlement that they have obviously grown up with, they respond, “We can.” The other apostles are predictably indignant at this display of hubris and Jesus delivers a wonderful cautionary speech that could be instructive today for all of those seeking public office (or leadership position of any kind) and for all of us. He tells them:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.