Salome, Wife of Zebedee
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. Matthew 20:20-22a
One of the saddest figures in the history of America during the century of the 1900s was Joseph Kennedy, Senior. Rising from a relatively humble background, he became a multi-millionaire, friend of the great, and ambassador at the Court of St. James.
The sad part came when Joe Kennedy started trying to arrange things for his sons. Once Joe was convinced that his own hereditary adherence to Roman Catholicism and other factors would keep him from ever becoming President of the United States, he started grooming Joe Junior for the job.
Joseph Kennedy, Junior died in a plane crash during World War II. Then the grieving father started grooming Jack, the next son in line. Kennedy’s millions helped sweep John F. Kennedy into the Presidency in the tumultuous 1960s. But – as everyone knows – JFK was shot down in the streets of Dallas.
After that it was the turn of Bobby, the third son. In 1968 he seemed well on his way to becoming President when he, too, fell to an assassin’s bullet. By that time old Joe Kennedy had suffered a devastating stroke; one commentator remarked that he was a “mute and helpless witness” to the destruction that had befallen his family and his grandiose plans for them.
Of course there was still one son left, and he served ably for many years as a United States Senator. Yet Ted Kennedy’s career was also shadowed by unfortunate events, . . . and he never became President.
Do you see a parallel between the story of Joe Kennedy and his sons on the one hand, and the story of Salome and her sons on the other? Note Salome’s request in the verses quoted above. By “right and left,” she was in effect asking that one son should be prime minister and the other a high royal councilor in Jesus’ coming kingdom.
Like Joe Kennedy the father, Salome the mother didn’t realize what she was asking for. Jesus hastened to warn her; he also bluntly asked her sons if they were prepared to suffer and die along with him. They answered stoutly that they were. (Does your church still sing sometimes a hymn about this conversation, beginning “‘Are Ye Able,’ Said the Master”?)
Could Mother Salome have possibly guessed that one of her sons would be the first of the Twelve to die a martyr’s death?
Could she have guessed that her other son would be exiled in his old age to the barren Isle of Patmos?
The following Scriptural meditation tries imaginatively to follow the thoughts of this devoted but misguided mother:
I couldn’t understand it when my sons both left their jobs.
They wouldn’t stop to listen to a mother’s pleas and sobs.
They had such possibilities, yet left it all behind. . . .
Might there be opportunities of quite a different kind?
I buttonholed their Boss:“Sir, here’s the thing that you should do:
Promote these sons of mine to number one and number two.”
I only did what any other mother would have done.
Some mother’s son would get to be the first – why not my son?
What Jesus mentioned next caused me to fear what time would bring:
He asked my sons if they were brave enough for suffering.
O yes, they got promotions, . . . but it caused my heart to break:
My James was first among the Twelve to die for Jesus’ sake.
Have mercy, O Lord, on all parents who don’t know what they’re doing when they seek a certain preference, position, or honor for their children! Amen.
Copyright © 2014 by Perry Thomas