We hear about the families of only four of the disciples. We’re told Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus (Mark 1:29-31) but we’re not told her name. In Mark’s Gospel hers is, in fact, the first healing by Jesus to be recorded.
Mary, the mother of James the Less, was at the cross (Matthew 27:56).
The only other disciples who have family members mentioned in the Bible are the brothers, James and John. Mark says Jesus called them from their father, Zebedee’s, fishing boat and they followed him (Mark 1:19-20) though John indicates he had talked with Jesus earlier (John 1:35-37). John’s mother was one of the woman standing with Mary as she watched Jesus die on the cross (Mark 15:40). Interpreters have concluded she was either Mary’s sister (making her Jesus’ aunt) or Mary’s cousin. Mark says she had been following Jesus since his ministry began in Galilee (v. 41).
That close family connection may explain the audacious request that Matthew says she put before Jesus (Matthew 20:20). Mark only mentions James and John making the request (Mark 10:35 ff), but Matthew, who was there at the time, says it was mama who asked Jesus to seat her boys on his right and left when the time came for him to rule in glory. If Mary’s son was Israel’s Messiah, wouldn’t places of honor naturally go to his close family??
Jesus said, “You don’t know what you are asking.”
Matthew is clear he said this to them — so presumably to mama as well as her sons. Then he asked them, “Can you drink the cup that I am about to drink?” The question seems one for those asking to sit in the two seats of honor, but I think Jesus was possibly also posing it to the mother who was making the request.
He might well have asked her Do you remember what my mother told you about what Simeon said to her? Are you ready to have a sword pierce your heart as well??
James and John didn’t hesitate to nod their heads. They were ready.
But only John was standing by his mother the day she watched Mary’s agony over seeing her son die. And before Jesus died, Salome faced another conflicted, emotional moment. She got to listen as Jesus spoke to John, her son, and tell him that his mother was now Mary. (John 19:25-26) Jesus had overturned the normal human family relationships before, when Mary and Jesus’ brothers thought he was crazy and tried to rescue him from the crowd gathered to listen to him.
“These are my mother and brothers and sisters,” he had said then (Matthew 12:49). Now he was doing it again.
Salome may have felt like she was losing one son, that day of the crucifixion. Then a day came when it happened for real. Her son, James, became the first disciple to die, martyred by King Herod. (Acts 12:1-2)
Salome had been one of the women who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb (Mark 16:1). Perhaps she was one of the people present and watching the day Jesus called his friend, Lazarus, from his tomb. Perhaps she hoped Jesus would do the same for her son?
He did not. (Not yet.)
Instead, Salome got to wait, and take another drink from the same cup set before Jesus, the one set before her sons. The one they all thought they were ready for. The one set before every follower of Christ. A cup that drowns every self-oriented impulse and proud inclination. A cup to be drunk while joys are delayed. A cup always, therefore, to be drunk in tears.
You have to be careful what you ask for. Jesus said to start by asking that God’s will would be done. There’s not much we need to ask for after that.
Nor should we dare.