Mummy’s Boys? — Matthew 20:20–23

The King’s actions

Christmas is all about families. That was repeated on TV News (it isn’t news it is opinion), as if family is what Christmas is about families, complete with the strory of the birth of Jesus as often depicted, with Mary dressed in expensive blue silk. I do not believe that story.


20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 

Matthew 20:20-23 ESVUK

That is not to say I do not believe in the birth of Jesus. I just don’t believe in the sanitised version that the church has invented. Mary did not wear expensive blue silk robes, coming from an insignificant small one camel town like Nazareth during the occupation of the brutal Roman dictatorship with the local ruler the despot Herod. There was no easy life. But as a young teenager Mary had an encounter with an angel and said yes to God.

Under Apertheit in South Africa Black people were required to step off the pavement into the gutter if a white person was approaching and then to bow their head as a mark of respect and to bow their heads as a mark of respect as they passed each other. Nine-year-old Desmond Tutu was walking along a pavement as a white man approached. Before Tutu and his mother could step into the gutter the priest, Trevor Huddleston, stepped into the gutter himself and doffed his hat in respect as they passed each other. Following that Desmond Tutu decided to be a priest.

Something must be done

Desmond Tutu died aged 90 last Sunday, 26th December 2021. Many bishops in the Church of England have paid tribute to him and the way he accepted all people. They have also mentioned accepting all people as Desmond Tutu did as being important. What I have not heard them saying is that something must be done, and until they do I cannot see them being in Huddleston and Tutu’s legacy. I could be being harsh here, some may have spoken out, and if you have I apologise and ask for you to speak out all the louder. Let us see an end to discrimination in churches which make things difficult for disabled people, for neurodivergent people, for LGBTQ+ people to be accepted, the Church of England has an opt-out of equality legislation. Be more Trevor. Be more Desmond. Something has to be done, lets do it. Together,

What has this to do with a passage about a mother coming with her adult sons to Jesus? The mother of James and John the sons of Zebidee is not named (that is a sermon that deserves to be preached in its own right) but she understands that Jesus’ ministry is reaching its climax. This and the previous chapter took place during Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem, now Jesus has passed back over the River Jordan and is in Jericho (implied from the next passage). James and John are two of the three disciples who went with Jesus up the mountain when Jesus was tranfigured, the third one, Simon, has been called Peter by Jesus, the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. At least that is how some interpret it, I look upon the declaration of Jesus as the Christ as the foundation. In any case James and John’s mother is asking for a special place for her sons in Jesus kingdom, she understands that Jesus’ ministry is reaching its climax but she does not understand the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

She does not understand that in Jesus’ kingdom their is no hierarchy. All will be equal. Everyone, male and female, white and non white, straight LGB+ and trans, all are equal and all are deserving of honour. Jesus is about to do the ultimate act of treating people as equal, to take on the sins of the whole world so that all people. ALL people, cam be saved.

Jesus was about to be rejected by the people and die. The risk of rejection was something that was faced by Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu. The question that Jesus asks of James and John is one that faces all of us, are we willing to be rejected, or worse?

Some people think of themselves as above others and look down on ordinary people. I have never met an ordinary person, everyone I have met is a person with dignity often in need of hope. In the autism group we have recently set up, and where I have set up this website, still a work in progress, there are people brought along by carers some of them non-verbal. These people are as human and as dignified as anyone else.

In the present day we live in a world where there are inequalities, hierarchies. Something must be done, lets do it. We cannot take away all inequalities but we can make things a bit more equal for a few people. Lets make a start.

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