One of my fondest memories from college, seminary, and even as I was serving a congregation in Corpus Christi was working as a DJ at local country radio stations. I love country music! And I loved working as a DJ, especially because of the "hook-ups" I received to so many country concerts when they came to town. Nowhere is old cliché, "It's not what you know, but who you know," truer than in the radio business. Because of who I knew in the industry, I got to attend more free concerts than I can remember as well as meet some of country music's biggest stars. A picture of my wife Melody, Dierks Bentley, and myself is still proudly displayed in our house.
Knowing the right people at the right times for the right things is something which many people covet. After all, knowing people in the radio industry can get you a free concert. Knowing the manager at a restaurant can get you a free meal. And knowing the right person at the University of Texas can get you a great seat at Longhorn football game. Too bad I don't know one of those people!
In our reading for today from Matthew 20, the mother of two disciples comes to Jesus, figuring that their relationship with him is going to get them the hook-up. But this hook-up not a hook-up for concert tickets, a free meal, or even good seats at a football game; rather, this hook-up is one that will, at least hopefully, get them the best seats in the kingdom of God: "Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 'What is it you want?' he asked. She said, 'Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom'" (verses 21-22).
It's important to note that the "sons" which are referred to here are James and John (cf. Matthew 4:21) and their mother's name is Salome (cf. Mark 15:40, 16:1) who, in all likelihood, is the sister of Mary, Jesus' mother (cf. John 19:25, Matthew 27:56). In other words, this request for the best seats in the kingdom of God is made by none other than Jesus' aunt on behalf of Jesus' cousins. And these two cousins, it seems, are hoping that their familial relationship to Jesus will get them a special spot ruling and reigning with the Savior. After all, blood is thicker than water, right? And you have to take care of your family, don't you?
At least in one unsuspected sense, Jesus' does offer his cousins the best "seats" in his kingdom: "'Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?' 'We can,' they answered" (verse 22). Jesus' seat, he says, is actually a cup. And that cup, of course, is actually a cross. For this is why Jesus concludes his conversation with his disciples: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (verse 28). The hook-up with radio directors, restaurant managers, and UT insiders gets us concert tickets, free meals, and seats on the fifty-yard line. The hook up with Christ gets us a cross. Indeed, this is what Jesus himself promises: "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20).
So why would anyone ever want to be associated with Jesus if an association with him only gets us a cross? Because the cross is a polyvalent place. Yes, it is a place of great suffering, sorrow, and shock, but it is also the place of our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. What seems at first to be the worst, most uncomfortable seat in the house turns out to be the best, most glorious seat in God's kingdom. And Jesus, through the cross, invites us to sit with him. Yes, sitting with Jesus sometimes involves pain. But sitting with Jesus always ends in glory. So take a seat with Christ. He's saved one just for you.