The drawing above is a classic “upside-down illusion”. The image on the top shows a giant bird clutching a man in it’s beak. However, turn the drawing around and it is an image of a man in a canoe observing a great fish. One of the important features of Jesus’ teachings is that he has persistently turned our pictures upside-down – not to be a contrarian jerk – but in order to show us how the world was really meant to be seen.
The passage we’ll be reading this Sunday are another one of Jesus’ image flips. We’ll be reading Matthew 20:17-28.
In v17-19, Jesus gives his third prediction of what fate awaits him in Jerusalem. This forecast is the most explicit, even including the detail of flogging and crucifixion. Based on the section that is coming up, we know that the disciples don’t get what he’s talking about. They are still assuming Jesus will be taking up a sword, assembling an army and overthrowing the powers that be. Instead of that, Jesus predicts his own death. Based on that, what do we understand the greatest expression of God’s power to be? From Sydney Carton to Harry Potter, humanity seems to intuit the power of self-sacrificial love. How does this impact the mission of the church? How should it define our main activity?
After Jesus gives this revelation, two of his disciples, Jimmy and Jack, get their mom to ask for special privileges when Jesus ascends his throne. Given what he’s just described his throne to look like, they really have no clue what they are asking for.
Jesus uses this as an opportunity to describe how authority is expressed and greatness is revealed in God’s kingdom. Again, he’s turning the picture upside-down and showing the image we were intended to see all along. What do you think it looks like when the greatest among us are the servants? How can a person exercise authority by serving? In what ways does this go against the grain of our normal understanding and aspirations for status and significance in life?
I won’t kid you – this will be a challenging study, but one that I believe is vitally important to our Christian maturation. Hope to see you Sunday!