To have our foibles outlined in bold for biblical posterity would be most disturbing. Yet from the other side of eternity, our forebears could we inquire of them would surely deem it a light offering - the corn of wheat that fell to the ground and died.
Salome, wife of Zebedee, mother to James and John, makes for our edification a magnificent seed of burial. Yet when she came to Jesus with her sons and their audacious petition, the grain had not quite, wholly descended. Her venture, courageous though it may have been, possessed little of heavenly perspective. We also question her timing.
What contrasts we mark at this scene of Salome’s daring debacle! Jesus, mindful of the incredible battle awaiting Him had taken His disciples aside to forewarn but also to encourage them. Peraea lay behind their journey south and west toward Jericho. From there it was on to Jerusalem where as humble servant Jesus would be tortured and crucified. Salome, her sons, and the other disciples had pettier problems.
The kingdom of Heaven the Jews had long been taught would be structured in a manner similar to the earthly order. There would be ranks of authority where the lesser would serve the greater. Even though the Master had taught His disciples by word and in deed that true leadership comes from the bottom up, they lacked that most important component to spiritual understanding. Though only partially so, the veil remained in place.
To Salome’s way of thinking, her sons had given up everything to follow Jesus. They along with Peter and Andrew had abandoned a thriving business in the fishing industry to follow an itinerant rabbi. Yet this was not really Salome’s complaint. Scripture makes clear she understood something of Jesus’ identity as king of an impending regime, worthy of her worship. So her fault lay not in lack of reverence for her God, but rather in her perception of what that God was all about. Determined for her sons she merely changed her objective to suit their new profession. In her ambitious, motherly eyes, their destiny had only moved a little further out.
A no-nonsense and forthright, though deeply feeling woman, Salome could see the writing on the wall. The Master pressed inexorably toward His kingdom; that meant time waned short to make bold her move. She knew her son John was probably closest to Jesus and James inside the magic triangle also. But she worried about Peter: might not he with his pushy ways get in ahead of them?
“If you don’t ask, you don’t get!” The Messiah Himself had admonished them time and again to ask, seek, knock. He had drawn vivid word pictures of a heaven shaken by violence; pearls of great price to be hoarded; rewards for the tenacious; and unjust kings who, if irritated long enough, could be persuaded. All these appealed to Salome’s intrepid spirit and helped to dim her recollection of other of the Master’s words.
Besides that, it wasn’t as if she drove her sons. They too recognized and agreed it was only fitting that as chief among Jesus’ apostles they should have first place in His future kingdom.
And so it was that Salome knelt before the Christ with hands stretched out to receive, “Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” (Matt. 20:21b)
We read, we wait… with fear and trembling.
Behold the man. “…ye know not what ye ask…” (Matthew 20:22a) “… is not mine to give… shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father…” (Matthew. 20:23b)
“Who does she think she is? Who do they think they are?” What short memories had those nine!
“…it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
Behold, that is our God!
As regards sister Salome’s response, Matthew is here silent. But she does reappear in scripture as her Messiah's deeply devoted handmaiden. Someday, Lord willing, we will hear the rest of her story. She can tell us then how foolish and weak her human effrontery and ours, how faulty its ambition, how glorious servant leadership, how amazing our God.
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