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The request of James and John

Gospel Reading: Mt 20:20-28

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.”

Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


As Jesus and his disciples walk along the road that leads up to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts his death for the third time (cf Mt 20:17- 19). This prediction is somewhat more specific than the previous ones, for Jesus actually names the precise events that will occur: the mockery, the scourging, and the crucifixion. As regards the question of drinking the chalice, James and John respond to Jesus’ question by vowing that they are, indeed, able to drink this cup, to share in Jesus’ suffering. In a sense, they are correct. James and John, as leaders in the early Christian community, will endure persecutions and suffer for their faith; James will die a martyr’s death by Herod’s sword (cf Acts 12:2). As Jesus says, “My chalice you will indeed drink” (v 23). In another sense, though, they are not able. After only a meager taste of caustic wine, James and John, as well as the others, will throw down the cup, desert Jesus, and flee (cf Mt 26:56).

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