Today’s lectionary readings seem to point out two basic attitudes to life. I often smile when I read the text from 2 Corinthians (4:7-15) where Paul reminds me of the play when the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” sings (as the Titanic is sinking), “I ain’t down yet!” Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not abandoned, struck down, but not destroyed…” He is so full of zeal for the mission of Jesus that nothing can stop him. I am always amazed when I read of his travels in The Acts of the Apostles, knowing that a trip in his day has absolutely no comparison to mine. What took Paul months on the sea or overland might cost me a few hours on a plane. Paul’s attitude was that of a consummate optimist; he was willing to suffer anything for what he knew of Christ and wanted to share.
The gospel (MT 20:20-28) shows us something different with which we are quite familiar in our “dog-eat-dog” culture. Enter: the mother of the sons of Zebedee, an over-zealous parent who has obviously not learned the disasters that can afflict spoiled children. She approaches Jesus with the wish – no, the demand – that her sons be at his right and left, the positions of power, when it comes to sitting in the kingdom that she presumes he will establish. Not only were she and her sons totally mistaken about the mission of Jesus but they then had to deal with the other ten apostles who were indignant about the way they put themselves forward. Getting all you can of power or esteem or money is a prevalent attitude in our time and culture but is definitely not the way those who seek a spiritual life view right living.
Jesus is clear in his assessment of this situation and in his response both to the Zebedee family and the other apostles, saying, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” Paul got the message and maybe the Zebedees eventually did too, since it appears they remained in the company of Jesus whose closing remark in this text is a good lesson for all of us: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…”