Dust lined the roof of my mouth. No matter how tightly I wrapped my shawl over my face, the grains found a way inside.
I knelt beside Mary, mother of James and Joses. She kneaded the flour into another loaf of bread. Mary Magdalene took the wine skin around the circle of disciples, offering them refreshment.
The flames licked at my fingers as I nudged the flat bread on our hearthstone before pinching its edge and flipping it over. At last count, all of the disciples had bread to go with the weak soup we’d made earlier. A glance at the cook pot told me there would be less than a bowl for the four of us women to share.
It didn’t matter. We had plenty of flour and dried fish. Such was the benefit of being married to the leading fisherman in Bethsaida. We always had fish.
“Salome, the bread.” Mary nudged me with her elbow.
I pulled the browned loaf off the stone, catching it in the linen cool cloth I draped over my lap. Mary plopped the next loaf on the stone.
I gazed toward the edge of the circle of men where the Master reclined against a scrawny sycamore tree. It offered very little shade. My youngest son, John, sat near Jesus’ feet, eyes riveted on the dusty figure.
Our Messiah. When would he set up his kingdom? Not soon enough. The Roman government taxed us increasingly and made light of our traditions. Messiah would make everything right.
“Shall I serve those loaves, Mother?”
Another of my sons knelt beside me. James’ face wore the same etchings of fatigue as the other disciples. Traveling the regions while Jesus spread his message about the kingdom of heaven wasn’t easier than hauling nets on the fishing boat.
I cringed, recalling Zebedee’s bitter tone when I announced I would accompany my sons on this most recent trip. Why not? There were other women ministering to the Master.
“I will serve Jesus.” I pulled the hot loaf from the stone. “Mary, can you finish these?”
She nodded, scooting into my space as I stepped away.
James trailed behind me, distributing a half a loaf when one of the men responded positively to his offer of more bread. Both of my sons had servant’s hearts. Sure, their red hair wasn’t a mistake. They both had fiery tempers, too, but it only flared when someone they loved or respected came under attack.
Jesus’ gaze turned toward me when I approached. I knelt, extending the hot bread toward him.
He took the offering, tearing off a small corner and passing the rest of the loaf to John. It was his willingness to give to others that kept his face gaunt and his frame thin.
“Master, I would speak with you.” My face nearly touched the ground.
His gentle touch on the top of my head bid me to straighten. I noticed James has knelt beside me.
“I would ask somewhat of you, for my sons.”
John swallowed a mouthful of bread before kneeling beside me. I had spoken to them about the governing in the new kingdom, but neither of them seemed eager to participate. Why not? James had been ordering servants around on the fishing boats for more than a decade. John had an easy charisma that invited people to respect him.
“What wilt thou?” Jesus asked (Matthew 20:21).
I swiped my tongue over the roof of the mouth and gulped the resulting saliva. “Grant that these, my two sons, may sit, the one on thy right hand and the other on the left, in thy kingdom.” (Matthew 20:21)
James dug his fingertips into my forearm. I glanced toward him. His lips were pinched in a tight line. A glance toward his brother revealed a slack jaw. They weren’t expecting this. If they wouldn’t seek position, I would do it for them.
“You know not what you ask.” Jesus’ voice sounded tired.
I stared at him. His wide brown eyes reflected a deep well of sorrow. Was he disappointed in me? My chest squeezed against the thrumming of my heart.
His gaze traveled over James and John. “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22)
Why did he ask about baptism? Both of my sons had tramped to the Jordan River to be dunked by the prophet, John the Baptist. He was the same one who baptized Jesus.
As for the cup – I was unsure. They had followed him for years. Surely they would be able to stand with him until he ascended his throne.
James and John shared a glance. “We are able.”
Jesus said something else about baptism. His next words pierced through the swell of contentment cradling me. “But to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give.” (Matthew 20:23)
“Who do they think they are?” Judas Iscariot hissed from somewhere behind me.
“Why are they asking for special favors?” Another one of the disciples, not sounding pleased.
“Thank you for hearing me.” My voice was barely above a whisper. Tears stung my eyes as I bowed my face once more to the ground at Jesus’ feet.
My strong sons gripped my arms, one on the right and one on the left. Such thoughtful boys. They really did deserve to be honored.
“They didn’t ask for anything.” I glared at each of the disciples who seemed angry with James and John. “They never ask for special favors.”
“Bah!” Judas turned away. The bag of coins tied at his waist jingled with his sudden movement.
I returned to my place near the fire. I took the warm bread and salty fish from Mary, not paying much attention as I bit into it.
Oh Father God of my Father Abraham, grant this position to my sons. They love you. They faithfully serve Your Messiah. I want more for them than the thankless task of fishing.
Doesn’t every mother want the best for her children?
**Next week we'll return to learning about growing in Christ.