You Do Not Know What You Are Asking (Matthew 20:20-28)
The mother of James and John came to Jesus with her sons, and she knelt down to ask a favor. Jesus said to her, “What do you want?”. And she answered, “Here you have my two sons. Grant that they may sit, one at your right and one at your left, when you are in your kingdom”. Jesus said to the brothers, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?”. They answered, “We can”. Jesus replied, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right or at my left is not for me to grant. That will be for those for whom the Father has prepared it”.
The other ten heard all this and were angry with the two brothers. Then Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the nations act as tyrants, and the powerful oppress them. It shall not be so among you; whoever wants to be more important in your group shall make himself your servant. And if you want to be first, make yourself the servant of all. Be like the Son of Man who has come, not to be served but to serve and to give his life to redeem many”.
Today, in the fragment of St. Matthew’s Gospel we can find many teachings. I will however limit myself to underline just one, which refers to God’s total control of events throughout time: whether of all men together (mankind), or of each and every human group (in our case, for instance, the family group of the Zebedees), or of any individual person. This is why Jesus clearly tells them: “You do not know what you are asking” (Mt 20:22).
To sit at Jesus Christ’s right is for those his Father has prepared it: “To sit at my right or at my left is not for me to grant. That will be for those for whom the Father has prepared it” (Mt 20:23). Just like that, in a clear-cut way. There is an English saying that goes “Man proposes and God disposes”. And it is so, precisely because God is God. Or we could also say it the other way round: if it was not so, God would not be God.
Before this fact, unquestionably overpowering any human determining factor, at the beginning, men are left with nothing else but acceptance and worship (because God has revealed himself to us as the Absolute); while marching on, with confidence and love (because God has revealed himself to us as a Father, too); and at the end…, that grand and definite end: to sit at Jesus’ side (whether at his right or at his left, it does not matter at all).
On our side, the enigma of divine election and predestination can only be solved with confidence. A milligram of confidence placed in God’s heart is worth more than all the weight of the world put on our poor little scale pan.
In fact, “St. James did not live long: this is because from the very beginning he was already burning with a great vehemence: he scorned all human things and climbed to such ineffable ceilings that he died immediately” (St. John Chrysostom).
– – – reflection by Fr. Antoni ORIOL i Tataret (Vic, Barcelona, Spain)