by Pauline Simonsen
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James and John came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask’ (Mark 10:35).
Oh, the breathtaking overconfidence of James and John! They’ve got it all worked out: what they need to get Jesus to agree to and how they will do whatever it takes to get it. I’m amazed at their arrogance, both in wanting positions of power alongside Jesus and in their assumption that they can manipulate him. I totally get why the other disciples are outraged when they hear what the brothers are trying to arrange.
I love Jesus’ response to their naked machinations, though. He isn’t affronted by their arrogance; he doesn’t condemn. He deals with their demands at face value and turns the whole interaction into a teaching point, calling the disciples away from a worldview that uses authority and status as a weapon of power and abuse. He calls them to the ways of his kingdom, where authority is used as an offering of service and self-sacrifice.
Listen, again, to the boldness of the brothers’ opening demand: ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’. Isn’t this the prayer of every one of us at some time in our lives? We mightn’t state it as bluntly or as overtly as this, but isn’t this often the guts of our prayers, too? God, you need to do this for me: heal me, help me, show me, make me, give me. Whatever I ask.
Jesus’ reply shows us the blindness of such prayers. We can’t see the full picture – where our lives are going and the ramifications of our request/demands. Only God has that 360° vision, seeing it all, knowing the beginning and the end. Jesus tries to warn the brothers, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’ He has only just finished telling the disciples about the cup of suffering he will drink in Jerusalem (10:35). He tries to tell them, and you and me, that the way of his kingdom is a surrender to God’s oversight. Jesus calls us away from getting power to fulfil our desires. He calls us to a willing surrendering of power to serve God and others, to give ourselves away in God’s beautiful redemptive purpose.
Just as Jesus will do in a few days, when he prays in a garden: ‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’ (Mark 14:36).
Father, forgive us our blind, arrogant demands of heart and mouth. Holy Spirit, grow in us the trusting surrender in which our Master Jesus lived and died. Amen.