read | Matthew 20:21
“And He said to her, ‘What do you want?’ She said to Him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’”
My husband (RO) loves the show Seinfeld. We own every episode, and every season on DVD. And we have watched them many times. Now I know for the younger generation, Seinfeld might be a show that is part of the “Stone Age.” But WAY back in the 1990’s, Seinfeld was “must see” television viewing on Thursday nights. This was pre-DVR. (There was a thing called VCRs, but who wanted to watch it on that if they could catch it live?)
There was an episode called “The Betrayal” which captured one of the many brilliant facets of the show, and what made it relevant “must-see-TV.” What the episode was about is not important, but how the episode was aired is what I am going after. The entire episode was played in reverse. In other words, the show started with the final scene, and then sequentially went backwards. It was a backwards narrative. The writers of the show literally “flipped the script.”
Now for those of you not in the entertainment world, the term “flipping the script” refers to this idea of turning the tables on the viewer by reversing or changing existing positions in a situation. It’s simply taking a story with a certain expectation, and doing something unexpected with it. The dictionary defines it as “doing something unexpected or revolutionary.”
In the passage above, Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, when the mother of two of the disciples (James and John) approach Jesus. She simply asks that when Jesus establishes His Kingdom on earth, that her sons get a place of honor and decision-making within the new “regime.”
The disciples have been hearing Jesus talk about this “Kingdom coming,” and they are anticipating this with great excitement. It would mean that someone other than Rome would be in charge. Not only would Rome not be in charge anymore, but a Jew would be in charge. God’s chosen people would be back in control, and could get back in the business of “making things right” in the world.
Jesus goes on in the passage, acknowledging the logic of their process, and reminds the disciples of the method and style of leadership in the current culture: power and position.
The request wouldn’t be odd or unfamiliar to the hearers of Jesus’ day. And it is not unfamiliar to us today. We operate with a similar mind set don’t we? We seek popularity, power, and position in our jobs, school, or friend groups, so that we can “make things right” in this world. Let’s be honest, what we really mean is we want to make things the way we want to make things. Right?
But then something interesting happens. If you keep reading in verses 26-28, Jesus pulls a Seinfeld: He “flips the script” on the disciples. He basically says, if you want to be in a position of power and influence in the Kingdom of God, you need to be a servant. You need to become a slave. You need to become last. THAT was revolutionary.
Jesus gave us fair warning earlier in the book of Matthew when He said: “Blessed are the meek” (not the powerful). “Blessed are the poor” (not the rich who hoard). “To have life, you must give yours up” (you don’t want me to explain this one).
Being part of His “upside down” Kingdom means “flipping the script” in regards to our pursuits of position, power, and popularity. It means changing things up on the people around you. It means showing humility instead of arrogance. It means giving away the things that have been given to you. It means doing something unexpected. Something revolutionary.
So now, where were you hoping to be seated?
– Dr. Mindy Coates Smith