As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and spoke to them privately, as they walked along. “Listen,” he told them, “we are going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and then hand him over to the Gentiles, who will make fun of him, whip him, and crucify him; but three days later he will be raised to life.”
Then the wife of Zebedee came to Jesus with her two sons, bowed before him, and asked him for a favor.
“What do you want?” Jesus asked her.
She answered, “Promise me that these two sons of mine will sit at your right and your left when you are King.”
“You don’t know what you are asking for,” Jesus answered the sons. “Can you drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
“You will indeed drink from my cup,” Jesus told them, “but I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. These places belong to those for whom my Father has prepared them.”
When the other ten disciples heard about this, they became angry with the two brothers. So Jesus called them all together and said, “You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others— like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.”
Well the Zebedees, meaning the disciples James, John and their mother, got motivated by ambition. They sought the places of honor in the kingdom; they sought to get ahead.
But Jesus turns the tables on them by revealing that his kingdom is not like any other. In his kingdom, you get ahead by serving, by sacrifice. Honor in the kingdom isn’t about aggrandizing the ego, but emptying it out.