Matthew 20:20-34 (AD 30)
The opposition were bigger than my son’s team, and a couple of them were girls who looked several years older than the allowed age grouping. And they were violent. For the first half of the game our boys couldn’t quite believe a.) how much they were being kicked and b.) how little the referee seemed to care. Other than being furious I was bewildered for a while as to why they were like this. Right up until I heard a Mum of one of the opposition players shout from the other side of the pitch, “Get him! GET HIM! KICK HIM!”.
Ah. So that’s why the kids are so violent and disrespectful: they were brought up that way. It was a long morning, and I was grateful to have a son who could and did stand up for himself.
Rewind a couple of thousand years to a scene of similar entitlement that proves nothing really changes, everything goes in cycles, and ancient people were just as capable of selfish entitlement as modern folks. Nowadays you hear such misguided mothering/fathering excused as the necessity to do everything you can for the ‘benefit’ of your child. As if elbowing other people out of the way or kicking them is what your children need from you.
We don’t know what – if anything – James or John said to their mother to precipitate this astonishingly selfish request, but it’s revealing that they did nothing to stop it, and that Jesus responded directly to them, after their mother’s request. They didn’t want to elbow people out of the way themselves, but they were very happy for someone else to do it for them. That, incidentally, is how corrupt, discriminatory and abusive systems are perpetuated: when the beneficiaries who are too cowardly to act on their selfishness happily receive the benefits, and shrug their shoulders at how it was done.
Jesus had up to this point perfectly modelled – and now explained – godly leadership, which can be summed up in one word: service. Or two words: service and sacrifice. That service and sacrifice isn’t a precursor to being lifted out of such a role onto people’s shoulders to be celebrated. Rather, truly great leadership perpetually exists within service and sacrifice.
As an example, husbands are to be the leaders in the home, and their wives are to respect, honour and be submissive towards them. Those husbands demonstrate and prove their leadership through a daily focus on the needs of their wives, which they put ahead of their own. Similarly with pastors and churches.
Service and submission isn’t one way of doing leadership, it’s THE way.