Salome, the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John, came to Jesus in Matthew 20 asking what seems, at first glance, to be an audacious favor. Grant that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your kingdom, v 21.
Before you think to take her to task, read also Matt 27:56, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25. If you take a moment to match up those women standing at the cross with the writers’ various descriptions of them, you will find excellent evidence that Salome may have been Jesus’ aunt, Mary’s sister. When you sift through other facts it makes excellent sense. If James and John were his cousins, no wonder they were in that special inner circle, and Peter would have been included because he was their close friend and business partner. If John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) was indeed the youngest apostle, as seems likely, the “baby cousin” could have had a special place in Jesus’ heart from his birth, and it certainly makes sense that Jesus would put his mother, John’s own aunt, into his care after his death.
It also means that Salome was Aunt Salome, and asking her nephew for this favor was not that much of a request, especially if these two cousins were his only relatives among the twelve. Why shouldn’t they be his first and second “vice-presidents?”
Then there are those who will fuss about her misunderstanding of the kingdom. “Tsk-tsk,” it was all about the physical with her. Wasn’t it all about the physical with just about everyone, including his closest companions? How many times did they fuss about who was the greatest among them, even the night Jesus was betrayed? Even after his resurrection when he had been “speaking about the kingdom” for forty days, Acts 1:3, they questioned him just moments before his ascension, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (v 6). Obviously, they still thought in terms of a physical kingdom.
Was it only once that he had to resist the urge of the people to make him king, John 6:15? I doubt it. How many times did he have to say, My kingdom is not of this world, John 18:36, or, Behold, the kingdom of God is within you, Luke 17:21?
Even the early Christians had to be reminded that the kingdom was spiritual; that the things that might have counted in a physical kingdom were of no value in the spiritual domain. Wealth didn’t matter; race didn’t matter; gender didn’t matter; status didn’t matter, Gal 3:28; Col 3:11. Our weapons are spiritual, not of the flesh, but mighty before God, 2 Cor 10:4. The greatest in the kingdom is the servant of all, not the master. Yet they still had trouble.
The mainstream religious world today has the same problem. Still carnal minded, still “immature” as Paul calls it in I Cor 3, they expect a physical kingdom for a limited amount of time on a physical earth. What is that but the same old notion the Jews had, who laughed at the idea of a humble man with uneducated followers ever conquering anything, much less the world? What is that but the disciples placing grandiosity ahead of humility? And what is that any more than a mother wanting the best for her sons? When you read the gospels, you can almost hear Jesus sigh in frustration, “How long must I bear with you?”
We have exactly the same problem today when we expect nothing but physical blessings as a Christian. How can it be right for me to suffer illness and loss, “after all I’ve done?” How can it be right for me to face a severe financial setback from the relative wealth I have grown accustomed to or, horror upon horrors, to live in poverty “when I’ve been faithful to you Lord?” Once again we are asking God to restore a physical kingdom with physical blessings. Our shallow-mindedness has made it impossible to see that the spiritual is far more important, and that, I am afraid, will make us unsuited for that spiritual kingdom.
But God is patient. Jesus did bear with those apostles a little longer. However, notice this—they finally came to grips with the reality of a spiritual kingdom, enough so that they gave up everything, including their lives. Jesus will bear with us for awhile too. Just don’t wait too long to figure it out.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God...Rom 14:17,18.