This is a passage of Holy Scripture that records an enormous impertinence on the part of Jesus’ aunt - Mary’s sister. Perhaps it presumes upon closeness of family ties and that Zebedee’s wife assumes that cousins of the Lord would be entitled to special heavenly glory. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom” (v21).
Entitlement, feeling special, is a common human trait indulged by most of us in various circumstances. It may be only momentary. But in the case of John, James and their mother it was obvious that their request was well-discussed and considered. All were agreed about the approach to Jesus and it seemed the best tactic to allow a woman, a senior family member, to voice their united desire to a deferential nephew who would regard Mrs Z with great respect.
In the circumstances - the arrogance of the pleaders, and the coming ordeal that Jesus knew he was going to undergo, - the response of the Savior was measured and mild. “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” The answer of the brothers is both cocky and casual. They have no concept of the horror Jesus was ordained to endure, and their foolish over-confidence must have been a wound to Jesus’ heart. They did not know the bitterness of the cup that Jesus was about to drink and its deep and costly salvific purpose. They simply saw Jesus as a means to their own greatness of status and privilege - an exact contradiction of the attitude and saving action of the Savior.
There can be no allowance for personal ambition in attachment to Christ. Kinship to Jesus in the flesh rendered no advantage to his natural relatives. For real and saving connection to him each of them would have to be born from above. It is extreme folly, but some persons assume that their affinity to a godly relative, or even a parent who is a servant of the gospel in some way, is sufficient qualification for the kingdom. Nothing of the flesh, nothing human, nothing of this world fits a person for union with the Lord or everlasting life in his presence. Nothing human brings credit. Grace alone admits us to divine favor through trust in the Redeemer. Believers are never permitted to entertain pride or a sense superiority in anything accomplished for the sake of the kingdom. Personal ambition and self-satisfied accomplishment are to be unknown in the hearts of God’s people. Nothing in the way of enterprise, nothing endured is to flatter the ego. Christ qualifies us; Christ equips us; Christ enables us in every task and godly deed.
Christian pride and conceit is the most disruptive force in the community of faith. The outrageous request of a mother in the interest of her sons caused commotion and agitation within the apostolic band. “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers” (v. 24). Exaggerated self-worth in the cause of Christ (stolen credit) and the seeking of the esteem of men becomes the cause of either sinful envy or justified distaste. Self-promotion is a pagan urge. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them” (v. 25). Servant-hood is the key characteristic of the true child of God and their nurturers in the faith (v. 26).
Jesus disarms and dispels our foolish pride through his self-revelation as the Son of Man who came to serve in the most ultimate way possible - “to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 28). He frees us from enslavement to satan, self, and sin. The way of salvation is humility, the other side of faith. The way of service is humbleness. Categorically, our God and his Son are exceedingly humble.