The request of the brother’s mother was misplaced and out of ignorance. Still assuming that Jesus’ kingdom was conventional, the mother sought the highest places of honor for her sons. Her request was bold, but it was wrong. The Father would sit to Jesus’ left as Jesus would sit at his right hand. It was a compassionate petition, seeking the best for her sons, but it completely lacked a fundamental understanding of Jesus’ mission.
The scorn of the other ten disciples wasn’t any different. They too still assumed that Jesus’ coming was to overthrow the Romans and all other kingdoms. They too looked for places of honor and craved Jesus’ favor. And given their imperfect view of things we cannot blame any of the disciples or even this mother. Old Testament Scripture talks often about the coming of Messiah and how he’ll establish an eternal, earthly kingdom in Jerusalem. But what the disciples did not see was the preparation for Jesus’ final return. They had much work to do and so did all of those who would follow after them. They could not see their own future, nor the centuries of work God desired after Jesus’ death to accomplish his plans.
Jesus response to the request and the disciple’s scoffing lays out for us several cautions. First, the Kingdom of God is not claimed on a “first come, first served” basis. As John and James’ mother tried to stake a claim for them, she was gently rebuked for her lack of understanding. Second, the Kingdom is found through humiliation (an understanding of one’s unworthiness of it) and humility (putting others, even enemies, before yourself). Third, there are many who think they can explain the last chapter of God’s plan through the Book of Revelation. But we would do well to learn from the mistakes of the disciples limited understanding of Scripture that predicted Jesus’ first coming and death that they completely missed. Finally, the greatest in Christ’s Kingdom are those who think themselves the least worthy to enter in and live as if that were the case. It’s highest officials in God’s economy are those who do not think about their rank in Jesus’ Church, but rather they are those souls who are just grateful to have hold of the One who made access to it possible. These people are servants in the plainest and broadest definition of the word who joyfully go about serving Jesus by serving others and who characteristically put the needs of others before their own.