Remember that old saying, born of frustration: “If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”
A friend’s kids turned that into a way to tease her: “If it’s not one thing,” they’d chuckle, “it’s your mother.”
I remembered that when, in a Lenten day reading (Mt 20:20-28), the woman identified as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” implores Jesus to let her boys, James and John, sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his kingdom.
Jesus had just finished telling his disciples that they were heading to Jerusalem where he would suffer greatly and be crucified. But somehow, Jesus’ friends failed to grasp this unfolding drama. The request by James and John’s mother illustrates how little anyone understood.
Imagining yourself inside a reading is a way to enter prayer. So, putting myself in the scene, I noticed this woman, like many in Scripture and history, remaining nameless and identified only as the mother or the wife of a man.
And she doesn’t come off looking very good, does she? And neither do her sons.
The other apostles are angry at her effrontery, while the sons seem to be there, possibly egging her on. When Jesus asks if the two men can drink the cup he will drink, they enthusiastically say yes. Again, still clueless.
Being a mom myself, I felt some compassion for “Mrs. Zebedee.” Maybe I’ve been the mom who cheered too loudly at a child’s soccer goal or bragged about a good report card. Perhaps I became defensive when a teacher reported bad behavior.
It’s a mom thing, and sometimes, like Mrs. Zebedee, we get carried away. And more important, we don’t always “get it.”
Scholars have ruminated on this story as well. Scriptural study is an inexact science, but here’s something interesting. Matthew’s rendition is the only one that has Mrs. Zebedee making the request.
Why? Maybe the writer felt that using her protected the two apostles from looking so grasping. After all, if it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.
Mark’s Gospel (10:35) has the sons make their own request for glory. No other Gospel tells the story at all. Why not? Maybe the writers felt the incident reflected poorly on two men who would later become leaders and die willingly for Jesus.
Another take: In Matthew’s Gospel, (27:56), the unnamed “mother of the sons of Zebedee” is present at the crucifixion, listed last among the women present. But in Mark’s list of women at the foot of the cross, (Mk 15:40), a name is given to the last woman on the list: Salome.
Are they speaking of the same woman? Has the mother of Zebedee’s sons finally been named? Scholars believe this to be the case. Salome also brings spices to anoint the body of Jesus.
Here’s a Lenten exercise. Read the passages about the women cited above and decide for yourself if Mrs. Zebedee emerges as the faithful Salome.
No matter her name, the readings cast the mother of Zebedee’s sons in a different light. Like me, she struggles to “get it.” But she hung in there all the way to Jerusalem, and like me, she’s learning as she goes. It seems she raised two sons well, sons who would ultimately drink that very real cup.
Salome followed Jesus as the truth unfolded at the foot of a cross and right up to an empty tomb.
During Lent, we’re all called to be Salome. We don’t always get it and we make mistakes. But the important thing is that we follow Jesus on the journey and always remain open to conversion.