What does God owe you and I? How about someone who has given their life to the service of God? What is the obligation on God’s part to repay that person for their service and sacrifice? What can be said to someone who pours out their life in some far off country caring for terminally ill patients without any access to modern western medical technology or perhaps works in a refugee border camp providing education to children? Surely such saints will call for some sort of reward from God?
In Matthew’s gospel, the Apostle Peter seems to ask a similar question;
See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?
~ Matt 19:27
In response to that Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. You might think that was the end of it, if not for the way Matthew continues to build his narrative. Following the parable, Matthew relates Jesus third and last prediction of what will happen when he reaches Jerusalem. What follows after that are two accounts of people asking Jesus for something. As you compare the two accounts a sharp contrast is clear in how they respond to Jesus and what they think God owes them.
In the first account, the Sons of Zebedee, James and John, have their Mother ask Jesus to give them the highest positions of honour in his future kingdom. Evidently it was insufficient for their ambition to be promised “thrones“. They wanted much more; to make sure they were above their peers, the other 10 apostles.
The second account also is about two men, this time both are blind beggars. Their wish is that Jesus would show them mercy and that they might be able to see.
What a vast difference. James and John assume a posture of entitlement and Jesus corrects their view of themselves and their view of him. What they couldn’t see, or didn’t hear, was “the last will be first and the first will be last.”
The blind men, however, have a posture of penitence and desperation. In response, Jesus also corrects their ability to see, by healing their physical blindness.
The reactions of those nearby each pair is also illuminating. The remaining 10 apostles are indignant that James and John would dare ask such a question. After all, it’s what they wanted ask (as indicated by Jesus calling them all together to teach some more), but James and John got in first. In the case of the blind beggars, the surrounding crowd is embarrassed and upset with the beggars because they seem to be asking the wrong question. When the crowd tries to silence them they only scream out even louder.
Some, it seems, follow Jesus to manipulate God and others. They may disguise it as leadership or influence, but it’s all about their ambition to be the big men on campus. The argument they use is, similar to Peter’s earlier question, “I follow you, therefore you should give me …fill-in-the-blank…”
Others, like the blind beggars, follow Jesus because they have received his mercy. Rather than seeking to make an exchange with God; their performance for his reward; they rely solely on his mercy because Jesus has already made the exchange by giving himself as a ransom for sinners.
Are you in one of these two groups? Or, perhaps, do you identify more closely with those who observed the pairs of men interacting with Jesus?