When it comes to children, even the most shy and discrete mother can become as bold as a lion. I hate to ask for ketchup at resturants, yet, when it comes to my children, sudden springs of confident entreaty for their well being rush upon me.
We don’t know much about Salome, the mother of James and John, the brothers who were among Jesus’ most intimate friends and disciples. Maybe her two sons, known initially as the Sons of Thunder, got their thunderous personalities from their mother. Or perhaps she was a meek little thing who complemented well a thunderous husband. What we do know is that she had the heart of a mother and the boldness of a lion.
As Matthew records in his gospel account, she came up to Jesus with her sons at her side, with a bold request.
And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Matthew 20:21-22.
Before we are too quick to judge this mother as one of those mommas, we must be honest with ourselves. That momma is within all of us; for proof you need only attend a youth sporting event or an academic meet. We can get a little crazy.
Salome, like most of the Jewish followers of Jesus, had the expectation that Jesus was the promised Messiah come to restore Israel back to the glory days in a very tangible and immediate way. Like any momma, she wanted to secure the best future for her children.
She may not have waited in 2 hour lines to sign them up for the best soccer team or stalked an elite charter school to ensure they receive the best education. However, she did the equivalent by coming to Jesus and asking him to offer them elite places in his kingdom.
Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink.”
The cup referred immediatley to the cup of undeserved suffering that Christ knew full well he would be drinking in just a week’s time; however, the cup also refers to the suffering that most assuredly comes with following Jesus this side of glory.
I imagine His extended reply might have gone something like this: “Sweet Salome, you have no idea what you are asking. Yes, indeed, they will be mine, they shall sit next to me in my kingdom. I love these boys like my own children, but my love for them will cause their lives to look painfully different than the life you desire for them.”
The trio responded, “We are able. ” Much like the collective nation of Israel responded upon receiving the Ten Commandments, the sons in the presence of their bold momma, essentialy offered a confident “We’ve got this.”
Just a few verses later, he tells all his disciples laden with earthly ambition, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” (Matthew 20:26).
I have slivers of Salome in my heart, and not all of that is wrong. It is natural for love to desire the best for the beloved. I have such a desire for my children to be competent and confident, successful and significant. The problem is that I am often far too short-sighted when it comes to my requests for them.
God would have us learn from Salome the long view of success and signficance for our children. James and John are most certainly remembered for their devotion to Christ. Both lived lives of service in the kingdom of God, James being beheaded by Herod Agrippa and John lingering long on earth, dying as an isolated exile on a remote Grecian island.
The cross comes before the crown, for Christ and all His followers, including our children. We may boldly request on their behalf, but we would do well to remember that the Heavenly Father’s perfect plans for them often appear crooked and imperfect from our vantage point.
I wrote this poem imaginging an aged John looking back on the request his mother had asked of Jesus on their behalf so many years before, speaking to the memory of his martyred brother.
Remember when Momma boldly
Requested we be His best men?
A seat on the right and the left:
We knew not what it meant then.
How far we have come, brother.
You went home decades ago.
Herod Agrippa sent you faster,
My path home is painfully slow.
The last I looked on your face,
You bravely welcomed the sword.
Beheaded for your Betrothed,
A small price to pay for the Lord.
It’s lonely at times exiled here;
In a remote cave now I dwell.
But it always lifts my spirits
Knowing with you it is well.
This dark, dank cave pulses
With fellowship Divine.
The whole band is gone now,
But His Triune presence is mine.
Soon and very soon, Salome,
Both boys will be by the throne.
Thunder’s sons now sons of God,
To the glory of Jesus Christ alone.