The trouble with mother - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

The trouble with mother

Matthew 20: 17-28

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17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,

18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,

19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedees children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

21 And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.

22 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

23 And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

24 And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

I suppose all of us at some time in our lives have had trouble with mother. When we were self-conscious teenagers we may well have winced with embarrassment when mother said the wrong thing, or turned up at school wearing something we thought inappropriate or gave us a kiss in public.

Mothers sometimes have a knack of coming out with the wrong comment to precisely the wrong person at the most embarrassing moment - but because it's done with the best of intentions, we love them for it just the same.
St James certainly had trouble with mother. He and his brother John had been swept along as disciples of this Jesus of Nazareth, they had witnessed some extraordinary things, and heard some inspiring teaching.
Then along comes Mother and asks Jesus 'Master', James and John hold their breath, they try to lead her away, but no, Mrs Zebedee is not to be put off. She's heard this talk about a King and a Kingdom and if there are going to be any places of honour, then her James and John had better be in line for them.

And so out it comes: 'Master, can these two sons of mine sit one at your right and one at your left in your Kingdom?'

Poor James and John. But Jesus didn't take offence: maybe he too in the past had had trouble with mother. But he must have been saddened, because here was yet another person who completely misunderstood what he was about. 'You don't know what you are asking,' he replied, and looking at James and John he said: 'Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?'

How often those two questions have been played out in the life of the church, as those who become involved discover the demands Jesus makes upon them. So often we become Christians for the worst possible reasons - snobbery, escapism, busy-bodying - and then that sense of entitlement that grows from going regularly and feeling we have a right to the privileges of membership. It's just another version of trouble with mother. We've been good disciples - we deserve it!

In despair Jesus says - 'you don't understand, you don't know what you are asking'. He said the same thing to the disciples when they couldn't understand his parables or his teaching. And down the centuries we've often continued to misunderstand him.  'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?'

So what might it mean to drink that cup today? Firstly, the courage to confess a faith that is increasingly seen as irrelevant, and to belong to an institution that is seen as counter-cultural. Fewer people go to church today than did when I began my ministry 40 years ago. There are competing voices in the market place and we've seen the rise of militant secularism. The church is far from dead. In fact I believe it is more vital than ever. But it does take more courage and more commitment to belong today than it has done in the past.

Secondly, the church has over the past 50 years found its critical voice and the ability to speak out on the issues of the day, and the present Archbishop has been forceful in criticising greed, pay-day lenders, repressive government. This outspokenness is more likely to win us enemies than status and prestige, but that is the price of being true to our Lord.

Thirdly, we are recovering a real longing for the spiritual: people are hungry to learn how to pray, to make retreats, to study the Bible and to understand the origins of our faith. Jesus too made time to go away on his own, to become closer to God. We need spiritual depth to our lives so that we can live richly and fully, and to do that we need to learn again how to step off the roundabout and be with God in stillness, from time to time.
'Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?' Jesus asks us the same question he asked of James and John. Are we prepared to take the spiritual dimension of life seriously with all it entails in terms of commitment, unpopularity, perseverance, going deeper, beyond the superficialities of everyday life to the things that really matter?

Drinking Jesus' cup will not bring thrones, glory, prestige or status. But it will bring fulfilment, confidence, true happiness and inner peace. Jesus asks us the same question he asked James and John that day after mother made her embarrassing request. Can you drink my cup? Can you follow me? Are you prepared to face the challenges that professing faith in Christ brings with it today? James and John said 'yes , we can,' Can we? Amen.

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