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20Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him.
21“What is it you want?” He asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.”
22“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
23Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
24When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
29As Jesus and His disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. 30Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
31The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
32Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked.
33“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”
34Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him.
In the previous section, Jesus pulled His disciples aside and told them about the suffering He would endure at the hands of the Romans. This appears not to have had the desired effect upon the disciples, as can be seen by the request made by the mother of John and James: “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. ‘What is it you want?’ He asked. She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom’” (vss. 20–21). “While the mind of Jesus was occupied with His humiliation and death, His followers were thinking of their own honor and ease” [Spurgeon, 280].
We must admit that John and James displayed faith in their request. They foresaw and believed that Jesus would come into His kingdom in power. However, by seeking for themselves a place of glory and power, they were not demonstrating an attitude appropriate for disciples of Jesus, for Jesus set aside His exalted place, and forsook all power in the Universe to serve, and even die, for sinful man. The disciples’s request “teaches that ambition or some other fault of the flesh is often entwined in a right and godly zeal, so that Christ’s followers have a different aim from what they should” [Calvin, 270]. “Consistently Jesus had taught His followers that there was no place for pride and self-seeking of any sort in the life to which He called them; equally consistently they failed to learn the lesson… It was not a minor misunderstanding, but an error at the heart of what service in the kingdom means” [Morris, 508]. “They ask not for employment in this kingdom, but for honour only; and no place would serve them in the kingdom, but the highest, next to Christ, and above everybody else” [Henry].
In response, Jesus first points out to them that to be at Jesus’ right and left hand would entail sharing in His sufferings, as well as His glory: “‘You don’t know what You are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can You drink the cup I am going to drink?’ ‘We can,’ they answered” (vs. 22). When Jesus said, “…drink the cup”, He was referring to the cup of His sufferings. “To ask that they might reign with Him was asking that they might suffer with Him” [Broadus, 417]. Did John and James know what they were saying when they said “We can”? “They were much in the dark concerning the way to that kingdom. They know not what they ask, who ask for the end, but overlook the means, and so put asunder what God has joined together. The disciples thought, when they had left what little all they had for Christ, and had gone about the country awhile preaching the gospel of the kingdom, all their service and sufferings were over, and it was not time to ask, ‘What shall we have?’ As if nothing were now to be looked for but crowns and garlands; whereas there were far greater hardships and difficulties before them than they had yet met with. They imagined their warfare was accomplished when it was scarcely begun, and they had yet but run with the footmen. They dream of being in Canaan presently, and consider not what they shall do in the swellings of Jordan” [Henry]. “‘We can,’ they said, without hesitation, without understanding, and without seeking clarification of exactly what the cup involved. That they claimed too much was made plain when they ran away in Gethsemane (see Matt. 26:56). And yet – in due course they did drink the cup: James by martyrdom (see Acts 12:1–2) and John by exile to Patmos” [Morris, 510].
Note that the “cup” was the cup that Jesus “was going to drink.” He went before us in suffering. Whatever we may suffer for His sake, He suffered more.
The other disciples reacted to the request: “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers” (vs. 24). Why were they indignant? Well, surely because they themselves wanted the same asked-for glory.
Seeing this, Jesus had to set them all straight: “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many’” (vss. 25–28). Jesus first points out that His followers must not have the same priorities as those of the world. Those of the world desire to “lord it over” others, and to “exercise authority”. Jesus says concerning this, “Not so with you.” “In the pagan world humility was regarded, not so much as a virtue, but as a vice. Imagine a slave being given leadership! Jesus’ ethics of the leadership and power in His community of disciples are revolutionary” [Carson, 432]. Jesus says, “instead” we must seek to serve. The greatness we aim for must be greatness in service—in serving others, in helping our brothers, in sacrificing our needs to make life better for others. “To rise in Christ’s kingdom we must descend” [Spurgeon, 283]. Again, Jesus is our example in this: “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus chose to give up His throne of power and come into the world to serve humanity, and to save humanity. And He served even to the point of death. “The example of our Lord’s humiliation of Himself serves to curb all ambition in His ministers” [Dickson].
Jesus and the others moved on: “As Jesus and His disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’” (vss. 29–30). In faith, the two blind men, obviously not having seen any of Jesus’ miraculous works, believed that He could heal them, based only on what they heard. They also believed He was the Messiah, for they addressed Jesus as “Son of David”. Those following Jesus apparently felt that the blind men were not worthy of receiving “mercy” from Jesus: “The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’” (vss. 31). It is quite sad that the crowd, followers of Jesus, would attempt to deprive these men of their chance to be healed by Jesus. “Did they upbraid them for ill manners, or for noise, or for harshness of tone, or for selfishly wishing to monopolize Jesus? It is always easy to find a stick when you wish to beat a dog” [Spurgeon, 284]. Perhaps the followers of Jesus felt discomfort with the desperate blind men, who were no doubt poor, dirty, even a bit disgusting in their appearance. Perhaps the followers of Jesus did not want such as the blind men to come to Jesus. If so, this is surely a sinful and most un-Christlike attitude. Jesus desires that all should come to Him, especially those who are in the most desperate of circumstances. We must be careful that we do not display the same sinful attitude as those followers of Jesus.
The blind men were not deterred by the rebukes of the crowd. They “shouted all the louder.” The blind men knew that they would probably never get another chance to have their sight restored. Their persistence paid off: “Jesus stopped and called them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He asked. ‘Lord,’ they answered, ‘we want our sight.’ Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him” (vss. 32–34). It is somewhat strange that Jesus would ask the blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?”. Certainly, the whole crowd knew that they wanted their sight back, and certainly Jesus knew this as well. But it is God’s will that we ask for (through prayer) what we need from Him, even though He knows our needs. Prayer establishes a relationship to God by faith, and thus, qualifies us to receive God’s mercy.