Matthew 20:17-34: What Do You Want from Me?
February 23, 2021
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Leviticus 21-23; Psalm 45; Matthew 20:17-34; Acts 27:27-44
This section abounds in irony. First of all, we have Jesus predicting his death. It is not going to be an easy death—mocking, crucifixion—but on the third day he will rise again. What the disciples thought about this prediction is not immediately recorded, but what is recorded is how they seemed to completely ignore it (ironically).
Second, then, two of the disciples come up to Jesus, with their mother as their spokesperson, kneel before Jesus, and ask him to do something. Jesus replies “What do you want?” Note that reply (20:21). What they want is honor, to sit at his right and his left. With such naked ambition, one wonders how they would ever be able to agree which one sat on the right and which one sat on the left!
Still, patiently, Jesus goes into instruction mode. He asks them a question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Presumably they think that again the cup refers to some sort of honor, but of course Jesus is referring (again) to his crucifixion and death. They cheerfully assume that they can drink this “cup.” Jesus tells them that they will drink this “cup” (that is, they will pick up their cross and follow him), but the honor which they seek is something that only God can give.
The others, when they hear about this attempt to get the number one and number two slots in the discipleship business, are incensed. And so Jesus instructs them that the greatest among them, in his kingdom, are to be servants; for even he did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus is trying to get their attention back on the point (his death and resurrection), and off their petty ambitions.
And so, by astonishing, ironic contrast, now come along two blind men. We have had two disciples who thought they could see; now we have two blind men who really can see. They are also asking Jesus for something, but look how different their approach: “Lord, have mercy on us” (20:30). They are not looking for honor, they are looking for mercy. Once again, Jesus asks them the same question he had asked his disciples earlier. “What do you want me to do for you?” (20:32). The answer now is simply that they want to see (20:33). What a much better answer! They want to see (not get their ambitious desires for honor fulfilled).
May God grant us the eyes to see that what we most need from Christ is for him to have mercy on us. And having so received mercy to simply serve—knowing that is the path to true greatness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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