Sunday, May 9, 2010

This Year's Nomination for the Mothers Hall of Fame

One of my favorite moms in the Bible is the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples—the ones He nicknamed “the sons of thunder.” Maybe Jesus gave them that nickname because they were short-tempered, explosive, quick to anger. There was that time when a Samaritan village refused to let Jesus pass through, and James and John asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven and incinerate them on the spot. Jesus rolled His eyes and told them to forget it, but something in those young men was so fired-up about that Samaritan rejection that they wanted to literally fire-up those Samaritans too. So, maybe Jesus called them “the sons of thunder” because of their quick fuse. Or, heck, maybe it was because they passed a lot of gas. I don't know. But regardless of whether they were short-tempered or gassy, you’ve got to love the woman they called mom (tradition calls her Salome). And what she must have endured in their upbringing! (I’m shaking my head as I write that line.) Temper tantrums, wrestling matches—how many pieces of pottery did those rowdy boys break through the years? But she and her husband Zebedee, got the boys to manhood. I suspect she did most of the raising because Zebedee was out in his fishing boat most of the time trying to scratch a living together for his family. So when you’re a mom and you’re raising sons of thunder, I doubt if every day is a Zebedee-do-dah-day. Had to have been a lot of tough ones too. How many switches did she wear out on their backsides? How many times did she have to grab them by the ear to pull them apart? Can you imagine how often she said, “Just wait till your father gets home”? But she got those boys raised.

Like most boys in that day, they followed in their daddy’s footsteps and joined him in the fishing business. That’s what they were doing when Jesus told them to leave their nets and follow Him. And these spontaneous, impetuous sons of thunder did just that. Sort of makes you think their mom did something right in their raising. She probably told them Bible stories and made sure they were at synagogue every week whether they wanted to be or not, whether they disrupted the service or not. We don’t know exactly what their spiritual condition was, but we do know this: these sons of thunder had spiritual sensitivities. When Jesus called them to do a radical thing like leave everything behind and follow Him, they anchored the boat, dropped their nets, and hit the trail with Jesus.

Apparently their mom followed too. She shows up in the story every now and then—like in Matthew 20 when she approaches Jesus on the sly and makes her big ask. I wonder if she rehearsed her speech. I wonder if she told her boys what she was up to. They were with her when she made the ask. She got Jesus off to the side, dropped to her knees at his feet, and asked, “Master, would you do me a little favor?” Jesus was all ears: “What do you want?” He asked. I don’t know if she hesitated or blurted it right out, but she sure wasn’t bashful: “Would you let my two boys sit at your right and your left in the kingdom?” Huh? Are you kidding me? She asked that? Hey, lady, while you’re at it, why not just ask for the key to the executive washroom and the corner office that overlooks the glassy sea? Sheesh! Probably not a bad idea to keep Jesus in between the sons of thunder, but to ask for the seats of honor … holy moley! That takes some kind of nerve. Maybe in some ways she’s no different than the mother who tells the band director that her daughter should be first chair flute or tells the coach that her son should be the starting pitcher and bat fourth in the line-up. But talking to a teacher or a coach falls way short of asking such bold things of the Lord. The mom of the sons of thunder went straight to the top: “Grant that my sons can sit on your right and your left in your kingdom.” She didn’t even say please. Some pushy mom for sure.

Still, I can’t help but like her and admire her just a bit. She was no outsider. She followed Jesus too. When she asked Jesus for the favor, Jesus didn’t have to ask her name. He knew her and loved her. She knew she could talk with Him about anything. And really, like most moms, she just wanted the best for her sons. She wanted them to be with Jesus. And she wanted them to be like Jesus. Can a mother want anything better for her children than that?

Jesus went on to explain to her that He didn’t make the kingdom seating charts; His Father did. And He also told her that before there is a crown to wear there is a cross to bear. That applied to Jesus. And that applied to James and John too. Being with Jesus and being like Jesus means more than a parade and a throne; it means some suffering along the way. That’s what Jesus meant when He asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” Of course, being sons of thunder and being clueless as to what Jesus meant, they boldly proclaimed, “We can.” Well … eventually they did—James was the first of the original disciples to die a martyr’s death—Herod killed him in Jerusalem in the early months of the church. And John suffered much persecution and even exile before he apparently died as an old man. Their mother was witness to much of that. I suspect she saw her son John beaten and thrown in jail in Jerusalem for preaching the gospel. And she no doubt wept bittersweet tears when Herod put the axe to the neck of her son James. She outlived one son. She surely died long before the other.

But I just bet she died content and at peace. She might not have received from Jesus everything she asked for, but she did receive everything she hoped for. Her two sons of thunder were with Jesus and they were like Jesus. And even better, because Jesus drank the cup of the cross and died for their sins, mom and her two boys are all with Jesus now in heaven. The seating chart just doesn’t matter to her anymore because no matter where they’re seated, they are all around the same table, and they get to enjoy one another’s company forever.

So today, I nominate this lady for the Mothers Hall of Fame and offer this simple greeting: Hey, mom of the sons of thunder, Happy Mother’s Day to you!


  1. Michael PoundersMay 9, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    As always, great insight. As parents, we can't always win or have perfect kids, but we can always be faithful and make heartfelt petitions to the Lord on their behalf. Thank you

  2. Hi John and thanks for sharing. I recently finished the Beth Moore study of John the Beloved Disciple and he is surely one of my favorites. Just a kid I think when he became a follower and how Jesus adored him. Yep I can imagine what a handful his mom had in that one! We love them all the same though and when they're grown we amazingly have forgotten the most trying times and only remember the joys. Motherhood: Another example of God's great sense of humor!

  3. "Being a mother means not being afraid to ask God anything for your kids"