And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:21-22)
Years ago I had to fire a guy. It was a volatile situation and he had nearly come to blows with one of his colleagues. As I sat him down, I began to explain that things were not working out. To my surprise, he nodded and affirmed everything I was saying – that is, until I explained that we were letting him go.
“You’re letting me go? I thought you were letting him go?”
He thought we were firing someone else. He was shocked. His behavior which led to his dismissal was completely excusable to him. To paraphrase Stephen M.R. Covey, he judged himself by his best intentions and others by their behavior. He was completely unaware of his wrongdoing.
We all do this. We self-justify and compare our intentions against the faulty behavior of others. This is how marriages crumble, business partnerships dissolve, and churches split. When we ignore our own sinfulness yet see sin in others, we are delusional destroyers. We will hurt those around us and in so doing, we will starve our souls of grace.
When the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus, she brought this delusional mindset with her. She expects that her sons should sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. She wants Jesus to confirm that this will happen. This is not unlike the dad who yells at his son’s t-ball coach because his son isn’t batting cleanup. Nevermind that little Timmy can’t even hit a stationary ball – he should be in the best position just because.
The funny thing is, we all approach Jesus like this to some degree. We may show up proud and we may show up ashamed, but we all show up entitled. And you know what, Jesus died so we could be entitled. Let me say that again: Jesus died so we could be entitled.
If our salvation was based on the net result of our good and bad, none of us would be saved. We do not want a merit-based salvation because we come with no merit. With empty hands we approach the throne of grace. But it does not matter, at least not to Jesus. He knew we’d need help. He knew we’d be so blind as to think we might somehow measure up to the standard of a holy and righteous God. So, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we are now entitled to his love, acceptance, and eternal salvation. We didn’t earn it, but he freely gives it to us.
As Pastor Scott said last weekend, “Grace isn’t fair.” If grace was fair and only those who deserve it would receive it, we’d all be out of luck. No, grace is not fair – it is benevolent. The grace of Christ is generous. It is merciful. It is not a reward for good behavior, it is a surprise party for failures.
We cannot earn grace, but we can accept it. Praise God that grace isn’t fair.