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 to them. "Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?" "We can," they answered. (Matt. 20:22)Apparently, Zebedee's sons were Jesus' disciples James and John - whom Jesus had recruited from a fishing boat on the Galilee shore.
“You will indeed drink from my cup..."Remember from the previous verse that the word "cup" is translated from the Greek word ποτήριον (potērion) which can mean "cup" or "drinking vessel" when used literally, but metaphorically means "one's lot or experience, whether joyous or adverse, divine appointments, whether favorable or unfavorable" according to the lexicon.
This indicates that Jesus sees the two sons are ready to commit themselves to a life of service. They are willing to make a change in their lives and change their consciousness from self-centeredness to serving the Supreme Being.
But Jesus cannot grant them entry into the spiritual realm:
"... but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant."Why would Jesus state this? Because, quite obviously, he is stating that he is not the Supreme Being, and thus he does not have the authority to decide who returns to the spiritual realm. So who make the decision then?
"These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”What does this verse mean by "places"? Is the spiritual realm some kind of award ceremony where everyone is assigned a particular seat and table to sit?
Don't be ridiculous. The phrase "these places" has been inserted by ecclesiastical translators who do not understand the spiritual realm. They inserted it because of their misunderstanding of Jesus' metaphorical use of "my right" (ἐγώ δεξιός) and "my left" (εὐώνυμος). In fact, there is nothing indicating "these places" in the original Greek texts.
What Jesus is referring to as "my right" and "my left" are those who would become Jesus' companions within the spiritual realm - each exchanging a loving service relationship with the Supreme Being, as Jesus is.
This is because in the spiritual realm - outside the confines of the physical world where we wear these temporary physical bodies - the citizens of the spiritual world are each engaged in loving service relationships with the Supreme Being within a particular flavor.
To be at the right and left of Jesus means to be there in the spiritual realm with Jesus, also engaged in a loving relationship with God.
The word "prepared" - coming from the Greek word ἑτοιμάζω (hetoimazō) - relates to preparations made in advance of someone's arrival. What kind of preparations are required for us to return to the spiritual realm? And how is the Supreme Being involved in that?
Jesus is speaking of redeveloping our relationship with the Supreme Being - which must be done in advance of our return to the spiritual realm.
It is not as though the Supreme Being is a thing. He is not a void or a monolith. The Supreme Being is a living person. He is the Supreme Person. And those within the spiritual realm each have a relationship with the Supreme Person.
A relationship is a two-way street. There are two people involved. If a boy wants to have a relationship with a girl he can't do it himself. The girl would also have to engage in that relationship in order for them to have a relationship.
In the same way, in order to redevelop our loving service relationship with the Supreme Being we need Him to accept us back into that relationship. It is not that we can accept ourselves and just figure that we deserve to return to our relationship with Him and we are there.
No. The Supreme Being must take us back.
But this doesn't happen automatically. We must consider that we were the ones who rejected the Supreme Being. We were the ones who decided that we didn't want to love and serve Him anymore. So He sent us away to the physical world and gave us these physical bodies to play out our self-centered desires.
But consider what it means to take someone back after they were rejected before. Consider a woman whose husband ran off with another woman and left her. Would she easily take the husband back after he cheated on her?
Certainly not. If she still loved him, she would want to make sure that the husband had changed his ways and wasn't going to leave her again. She would want to make sure that he was serious, and really committed to returning to her. She would want to make sure he had a change of heart.
The Supreme Being is no different. He wants to make sure that we are committed to returning to Him. Yes, He loves us and wants us to return to Him. But not on a whim. He doesn't want us to whimsically return to Him, just to then decide again that we don't care about Him. The Supreme Being doesn't go for whimsical relationships.
He wants commitment. Just as any of us wants to have commitment within a loving relationship.
The spiritual realm is full of committed loving relationships - each unique in that the Supreme Being has a specific type of loving relationship with each of us. In each loving relationship the Supreme Being commits Himself to loving us unconditionally: No matter what we do, He loves us and cares for us.
He simply wants the same in return. He wants us to love Him unconditionally. Not just because He gives us stuff. Not just because He takes care of us. He wants us to love Him no matter what. Jesus spoke specifically of this:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22: 37-38)This is the nature of the spiritual realm. And this is why Jesus cannot grant the two boys their return to their relationship to the Supreme Being. It is between them and God.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Devotional Translation - translated from the original Greek texts.)