You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. (Mt 20:25)
It was abundantly clear from the US presidential campaign that Donald Trump is very close to his kids. Their affirmation of his nomination at the Republican convention was pretty impressive. And since his election they have joined him as part of a quasi-official inner circle.
The President’s daughter Ivanka Trump was appointed as Assistant to the President in March, and her husband Jared Kushner is one of his Senior Advisors.
And while Mr Trump’s sons Donald Jr and Eric don’t have official roles in the White House they do enjoy peculiar access to him, appearing occasionally in the front row of official presidential announcements.
Hey, I’m not complaining about this. That’s just the way of the world. So what if Mr Trump appoints his kids to top positions? So did Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, and Kim Il-sung.
So did plenty of leaders of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and, well, just about every empire in history.
So when, on the eve of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, two of his disciples, James and John, and their mother Salome, approached him asking for special status in the kingdom he was about to establish, they were just following the way of the world.
After all, if Salome was the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary, as some surmise, what’s wrong with your aunt asking a favor for your first cousins?
Remember, this incident happened just after Jesus has promised that his disciples “will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel”. (Mt.19:28)
Think about it.
If they’re all going to sit on thrones, what’s wrong with his blood relatives asking for the two closest to Jesus?
In other words, Salome and her sons were playing the original game of thrones. And organizations, governments and the business world have been playing it throughout time.
This is why Jesus’ words on the eve of his entry into Jerusalem are so stunning.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28)
While the world strives for the iron throne, Jesus is calling us to sit on the slave block.
As servants of all, we aren’t called to strive for the best seats in the house. Instead we are to humble ourselves as he did. To embrace sacrifice, service, otherness. To take the downward road to glory.
This is a photo of an old slave auction block that still sits on the corner William and Charles Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia, as testament to the terrible of history of slavery in the United States.
The Fredericksburg slave block has been a stumbling block to that city. For many years people denied it was used to auction slaves, insisting instead it was a step for women to mount their horses.
Then Albert Crutchfield came forward to testify that he had been sold as a slave from the very block in 1859 at the age of fifteen. He is seen in a 1920s postcard standing behind the slave block.
It’s an ugly little memorial to an ugly period of history. But it looks like a seat. A seat no one would want to sit in. Except Jesus.
This miserable, rough-hewn block is the ‘throne’ Jesus calls James and John to sit upon. He invites them to become slaves, not kings.
He wants them, and their mother Salome, to stop thinking of a royal throne or a seat in the Oval Office, but instead to desire not to be served, but to serve. To stand alongside the poor. To speak for the silenced. To be present for those overlooked by society.
The slave block is a repugnant, brutal, shocking depiction of the throne Jesus offers to his followers. But it is closer to what Jesus intended that any plush red velvet throne in any palace throughout history.
After he said these word, Jesus then mounted a humble donkey and made his way up to Jerusalem. He would be lauded as a conquering king as he arrived, but he knew his is a strange kind of kingship.
He is the slave-king, the friend of sinners, and he calls us to join him in his upside-down kingdom of humility, love, gentleness and justice.