Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor. He said to her, 'What do you want?' She said, 'Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.' - Matthew 20:20-23
Some years ago, a member of my church died and left me $25,000. What to do?!
Today's code of ethics urges ministers to politely decline big gifts from church members, living or dead. I'm not talking about the gifts of a book, a meal out or a tin of Christmas cookies, I'm talking about the use of vacation homes, boats, cash or other amenities for personal use.
In a world where politicians are often accused of indulging in luxuries lavished upon them by lobbyists, it's natural to wonder if pastors will also be compromised and give preferential treatment, or at least feel indebted, to church members who lavish big gifts upon them. Even if those concerns are unfounded, it still raises a fair number of eyebrows.
Something similar (and different) is going on in our gospel passage. A mom has come to collect after "giving" Rabbi Jesus two of her sons as disciples. In return for her generosity she wants to secure top ranking executive positions for them in the Kingdom. That appeared to put Jesus in an awkward and compromising situation.
But Jesus was never in a compromising situation. Besides the fact that the mother was claiming too much, she doesn't have a clue what she's asking. Instead of granting the favor, Jesus turns the request into a teaching moment on equality and resisting favoritism.
You might be wondering what I did with the $25,000. I gave it back to the church. The church turned it into a pastor's discretionary fund with expenses approved by church leadership. When I left that church, the money stayed there.
It was delicate and complex, but I think we got that one right. Thank you Jesus.
I commit to being grateful for all that I have in my life right now and I surrender my concerns about affirmation, advancement, money and prestige to your Divine care and love. Amen.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.