“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus responded when the mother of James and John made her request of Him (Matthew 20: 22).
Most probably, the wife of Zebedee thought she was quite clear about what she wanted for her sons. After all, her two sons had left everything – most especially the family fishing business – to follow Jesus. She wanted some assurance that they were going to have a special place in His kingdom.
Like many others, this devout Jewish family likely envisioned a King who would overthrow the existing tyrannical order and establish His own rule. She probably imagined Him sitting on a throne and she wanted her sons in positions of honor and power, one on His right and one on His left.
So puzzled must they all have been when Jesus directed His attention to James and John and asked them if they were willing to drink of the cup He would drink. They, of course, did not understand yet what this meant. But they agreed to do so.
A year ago, on the feast of Christ the King, God gave me a special gift which I posted on this blog about my King.
This year, He gave me an image – an image of my King upon His throne.
Last year, I wrote, “He does not sit on a big throne of gold…” And, indeed, He does not.
Most would not consider “it” a throne at all. Thrones, after all, are seats of dignity and honor for important people participating in important ceremonies.
Where I saw my King was none of these things.
He wears a crown but it is made of thorns. He has been stripped of His robe and His skin is torn and bleeding. He is dead.
How can I call this Cross a throne? How can I call this dead man my King?
I can only do so because my King Himself is teaching me His Way, as He taught James, John and their mother, Salome.
His Kingdom and its ways are not of this world.
The world conquers by force. He conquers by surrendering Himself completely.
The world kills to gain power. He dies to come into His power.
The world resists suffering and death – even when this results in more death. He enters suffering and death willingly, lovingly.
The world glories in domination and self. He glories in humble gift of self.
But why – why portray my King in suffering and death, enthroned upon the Cross of humiliation? Why not show Him in His glory?
The most obvious reason, of course, is that no one could possibly portray that glory. Any human attempt to do so would fail. It is more extraordinary than we can imagine – and any effort to paint or sculpt it would, unfortunately, look far too much like the glory of this world.
And we need to learn – as James and John and Salome learned – that the way to this glory is completely different. We will not learn and remember if we do not see our King in the fullness of His giving.
Our society has made it safe and easy to be “Christian” in name. Hence, we might too easily forget what it truly means to follow Him, imagining that we can just say “yes, we can drink that cup” and believe we have done so. Having died for us, He will lead us into heaven and we need do no more.
Salome, the mother of the brothers, learned the Truth. She stood at the foot of the Cross as Jesus hung dying.
James learned as well. He was beheaded for the Faith in Jerusalem. But that was not all. Such was the message of James’ words and life that the Roman soldier who led him to execution became a Christian then and there, offering himself to also be beheaded.
And John learned. John is thought to be the only one of the twelve (besides Judas Iscariot) who did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he lived to be an old man and left us the Gospel of Love. But learn he did.
The early writer, Tertullian, tells us that this younger brother did face martyrdom, being plunged into boiling oil in the Colosseum. However, miraculously, he emerged unharmed. All in attendance saw and believed.
Our beloved King chose that one of His apostolic martyrs, one who was an eyewitness of His Transfiguration, Crucifixion and Resurrection, should survive to tell what he knew.
And so John did. But he did not just repeat the facts of the other Gospels. In fact, he left many of them out, assuming them to be already known.
Instead, John tells us that Jesus, the Word, was “in the beginning” and was with God and was God, with all things coming to be through Him. He shares with us the seven “I AM” statements of the Lord Jesus, bringing into focus His right to use the Name. And more intimately, John allows us to partake of the final words our human Jesus had with His closest friends before He died.
John leaves us no doubt about Who he knew Jesus to be. And he leaves us no doubt as to the meaning of what God did for us in Him.
In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.
No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
1 John 4: 9-12 (NABRE translation)
This my King.
Suffering, dying, living and loving from His throne in my heart.
Let us follow Him. Let us love as He has loved us.