The account of Mrs. Zebedee’s request that her sons, James and John, be given positions of authority in Jesus’ kingdom is an interesting story on several levels. It shows a good Jewish mother wanting to see her boys succeed. But it also illustrates the attraction that power and influence have upon us all. It shows how much we allow the desire to manipulate the outcomes of life to affect us. Mrs. Zebedee is not content to let her sons succeed on their own! She attempts to manipulate their success. The story also shows the extent that covetousness can gain a hold upon us. The rest of the disciples were upset with her request, feeling that they should have the positions and kicking themselves that they hadn’t asked first. Mrs. Zebedee’s request tells us a lot about human nature. Throughout history, people have faced the temptation of Zebedeeism – the desire for power, status and control.
We find ourselves reacting much as Mrs. Zebedee and the disciples did. We seek to have positions of power and authority, both within the church and within society. We want to have control over the events of our lives. We attempt to manipulate them so that things will turn out the way we want them to. We desire to see our children living successful lives. And who does not want to see their children succeed? But at times we may try to define success for them. We can push them into sports or a particular career path even though they may have no interest in them at all. We can try to live vicariously through our children’s success. When we do so, we allow Zebedeeism to infect our lives.
We can also personally become so enamored with power and status that we seek them at all cost. We may become bitter when others get ahead, coveting their positions. Stories are told of executives who are bent out of shape because when they measured one of their peer’s offices they found it to be a few square inches larger than theirs. This example illustrates the power that coveting can have on us. It illustrates how Zebedeeism can dominate our lives.
Due to human nature we have all been infected with Zebedeeism to some extent. We all face the danger of allowing it to dominate our lives. How do we avoid succumbing to it? Jesus gives the antidote in the story of Mrs. Zebedee. He states “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mt 20:26b). Servanthood is the cure for the disease of Zebedeeism. Serving others removes our having a self-oriented focus. Jesus calls us to voluntarily become his servants – ones who are willing to give up claims to power and status. He wants us to be enamored with him, not with achieving great positions in the world. Service, given out of love, is a powerful deterrent to Zebedeeism. Mother Theresa is perhaps the one modern person who has done this more than most. With the strength of her character, she could have easily achieved positions of influence and power in the world. But she willingly gave up everything to serve the poor. She was willing to be a servant of Christ, reaching out to the downtrodden in society. God calls us to do the same. He calls us to reach out to those in need. But this requires that we let go. It requires a willingness to serve others. It begins with an examination of our lives, asking “How much does Zebedeeism affect my life?”