“Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 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.’ But Jesus answered, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We are able.’ He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.’ When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’” Matthew 20:20-28.
I have observed that people from the Middle East like to negotiate the price of everything. Where I grew up there were Jewish, Arabic, Persian, and Armenian merchants that annoyed me to no end with their habit of haggling for several minutes over the value of their services or goods instead of displaying the price. They are oblivious to the notion of “time is money”. To them, the idea of putting a price tag on something is comparable to taking romance out of life. Dealing and trading is in their blood.
St Mark’s account of the event described in Mattew 20:20-28 adds an important detail. The Zebedees want Jesus to sign a blank check for their benefit when they ask to be given a certain grace they don’t reveal at first.
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Mark 10:35.
Jesus, the quintessential Jew, could be nothing but a master negotiator. In that passage of Matthew we see how He turns the table on the Zebedee brothers. They ask to be seated permanently in positions of privilege next to the Master. They send their mother ahead of them — perhaps because she was close to Jesus’ mother — and she asks for a special favor. The answer is typical Middle Eastern negotiation: “You can’t afford it, you don’t know what you’re asking for!” Variations of that reaction to a client’s request have been repeating since times immemorial. The astute merchant locks in the high price appealing to the customer’s pride while he gains a few precious seconds he uses to examine the buyer, and determine how much money can be exacted from him.
The question “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” is the equivalent of “Can you afford 5,000 dinars?” — or any appropriate ridiculous high price in rupees, shekels, or any other denomination — a response designed to know if the buyer is experienced or not. The experienced buyer will respond with a smirk and release a countermeasure like: “I see you haven’t sold any of your cheap wares in a while and you want me to make up for several days of no sales!” but the simpleton will feel hurt in his pride and try to prove his affluence by considering the ridiculously high price. That is what the Zebedees did. They did not know what that “cup” was all about but they blindly accepted the challenge.
The “cup” Jesus was about to drink was the cup of death. That death was not only His death on the Cross but the death resulting from all the sins of mankind past, present, and future to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 25:8
“He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.”
The Zebedees trusted Jesus was good, they knew He was a benefactor but they forgot His severity and the high standards He demanded from those wanting to follow Him. They signed the blank check. Immediately after, Jesus informed them of the terms of the deal:
- You will indeed drink from this mysterious cup.
- You will not get what you asked for.
Like any followers of Christ, the Zebedees (John and James) accepted to bear the Cross and accompany Jesus in His sufferings. St Paul expressed that perfectly:
“Now I can find joy in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my own body whatever is lacking in Christ’s afflictions on behalf of His Body, the Church.” Colossians 1:24.
However, Jesus did not concede to them the requested seats at the right and left of His throne. James and John fell blindly into the trap they had set for Jesus. In the words of an old Spanish proverb: “They went for wool and they got sheared instead” — (fueron por lana y volvieron esquilados.)
Yesterday President Trump announced his intention to move the U.S. Embassy from its present location in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem. That announcement flies in the face of the outrageous and permanent demands of the Palestinian Arabs for the so called “Peace Process” — the elimination of the State of Israel, and the establishment of one Palestine nation with all of Jerusalem as its capital.
Moving the U.S. to Jerusalem, equals to a resounding “NO” to both Arab conditions to the “Peace Process”. Implicit in this new unspoken deal there is a mirror image of those demands: the possibility of the elimination of a future Palestinian State now that all of Jerusalem is de facto recognized as the eternal capital of the Jewish State. The table has turned.
The Middle Eastern hagglers have met the American wheeler-dealer.