Look: Matthew 20 begins with Jesus telling a parable about God’s right to give the same level of generous grace to all, no matter when they come to believe in and follow Him. Jesus says that in the kingdom of God, the last will be first and the first will be last and their standing will have nothing to do with how the world sees things.
Later, James, John, and their mother approach Jesus, asking Him to assure them that, when Jesus comes into His kingdom, James and John will be his right- and left-hand men. The mother who voices this request isn’t particular about which one is higher than the other, but she does want the boys to be one and two in Jesus’ kingdom. But Jesus says: “...to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (v.23)
Later still, two other men, blind and unaccompanied by their mommies, call out for mercy to Jesus. Jesus had asked James, John, and their mother, “What do you want?” (v.21). Jesus now asks the blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v.32) The blind men ask to be sighted and Matthew writes: “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.” (v.34)
Listen: While James and John were apostles and would have a special part to play in the kingdom of God, Jesus’ answer to their request (their prayer) was different from the one given to the two blind men.
To James and John, Jesus gave a nuanced no. Jesus tells them that they will, as they so confidently and ignorantly say they can do (v.22), drink the cup that Jesus is about to drink: They would drink of death because, after Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, James and John would faithfully exercise their particular callings as apostles, telling others about the way of new life with God through Jesus. They would lose their lives for their faithfulness.
But Jesus told them that only the Father could or would decide where they would be seated in the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, we have no further record of the blind men given sight by Jesus here. They asked for their sight and they followed Jesus. That’s all we know of them.
Maybe they already were followers (disciples) of Jesus when they cried out for mercy. Now, with sightedness, they could physically follow Jesus along with the other disciples. We don’t know.
But several things are clear:
1. The blind men asked for sight, not for power. It’s not just unseemly to ask for power; it's a sin. To crave it. To need it. Jesus asks: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36)
2. Matthew avoids indicating what status in the kingdom of God might belong to the now-sighted men or what their status might later have become. He only tells us that they followed Jesus.
This is important. It’s a dangerous business trying to guess other disciples’ status with God. We can’t know the depths of their prayer life or the breadth of their faithfulness. We can’t know the secret sacrifices they may make to follow the Lord. We can’t know all of the temptations and sins with which other believers may wrestle in order to keep following Jesus. Only God knows and only God sees the true nature of a person’s discipleship or the disciple’s place in His kingdom.
Because of all of this, there's a good chance that any judgment we might make about a believer's status in the kingdom would be wrong. God told Samuel not to anoint young David’s handsome older brother: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]
3. Even if James and John occupied a special, revered office in Christ’s Church on earth, which they did, it doesn’t mean that the blind men don’t enjoy higher status in the kingdom of God. The only One Whose judgment counts when it comes to evaluating our lives is God. He loves all equally. Christ died and rose for all. All who repent and believe in Christ have a share in His kingdom. Status, place, is entirely God’s decision. Period. For each Christian, it should be sufficient knowing that we belong to the God we meet and trust in Jesus. Everything else is self-absorption.
Rather than trying to outguess the sovereignty of God, our call is simply to follow and go where Jesus sends us. I’m a sinner saved only by the grace of God given to those who trust in Jesus.
By grace through faith in Christ I’m granted a place in God’s kingdom. Who am I to argue over the seating arrangements?
Or to concern myself with whether others regard me as a great disciple, faithful, upstanding, wise, smart, important, worthy, exalted, or anything else?
Whatever place I am given in the kingdom of God is more than I deserve and infinitely better than having no place in His kingdom. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)
Respond: You take the lead today, Lord. I will follow. Wherever You want to put me, I will accept. I’m not the leader; You are. You’re not the follower; I am. You’re not the caterer to my desires, the Placater-in-Chief; You are my Lord and my God. Today, help me to treat You that way. In Jesus’ name. Amen