James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
What happens when we go to a house for dinner as guests? Arriving at the dining room, we probably wait for somebody to seat us. There may be traditions in the family that we want to respect. It can be considered rude to just sit down, without any consideration for what the host wanted. Some hosts will have planned everything out carefully to mix guests or to avoid awkward and unpleasant situations.
In Jesus’ time, places at a meal were much more important. The host would follow a strict hierarchy of the social status of his guests to place them at table. James and John see themselves at the head of the list. They believe that they deserve to sit at his right and left: the positions of honor. Is this a meritocracy? Have they done something the other disciples have not so they deserve the best places? Is it a question of social status? Was the family of Zebedee so well-off that they expected the best places wherever they go? Or perhaps, do they consider themselves to be the special friends of Jesus and want to receive special treatment?
Whatever the case, Jesus does not see things the same way they do. He wants them to worry less about the honor they receive and more about the service they give. He speaks about the Gentiles and how they try to lord their authority over others. This image would strike home, as they saw foreigners ruling their very homeland. It was a painful and embarrassing reality. Jesus contemplates them with love and is concerned that they want to measure his love by their social status. The jealousy in their hearts is a red flag that speaks of insecurity.
Where does jealousy come from? It seems to come from a place of hurt and insecurity. James and John want affirmation from Jesus, to soothe their wounded souls. Jesus wants them to move beyond their fears into a place of love. If they love Jesus and know they are loved by him, their places at table cease to be important. They know that they live in his love, and that is enough for them.
How are we oversensitive about our relationships? Where does jealousy or envy crop up? We can learn to put all of this at rest when we learn to place love in our hearts instead of insecurity. Instead of allowing anxiety to take over our life, we should remember the great love that God has for us. Pray to God, that he may fill your heart with love and peace, giving you strength to face the challenges of this week.