Today we have an appearance of those two outspoken disciples, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. We first meet them in the gospel of Matthew as they are with their father preparing their nets for fishing. As with all the others who left what they were doing to follow Jesus, one wonders about the reaction in their family. We never meet the father again but their mother shows up in the gospel of Matthew asking for privilege for her sons (MT 20) and today we have Mark’s rendition of that event (MK 10:32-45) where the brothers speak for themselves. It’s a rather shocking passage but maybe understandable if you consider the haughty behavior of their mother recorded elsewhere. Asking Jesus that they be “seated one at your right and one at your left in your glory” is not at all in keeping with the humility expected of the closest followers of Jesus. Even worse is the fact that Mark pairs that conversation with Jesus telling the Twelve what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem – his suffering, death and resurrection.
Maybe James and John weren’t really listening closely or maybe they just skipped over the suffering and death part because it seemed too impossible to consider, but their response held nothing of care for Jesus. It was all about the prestige they were hoping for as his companions.
While we admit that Mark’s is the shortest gospel and that it was written at least 30 to 40 years after the events described, one must wonder at the reasoning behind the juxtaposition of the two scenarios in this one passage. Was it a call for humility, pointed out by bad behavior? A call to attention, perhaps, so that we don’t miss the messages we are being given even in the everyday? Did it really happen as Mark told it, or were the brothers embarrassed by the arrogance of their mother in Matthew’s rendering? Certainly this is all conjecture but it does give one pause.
For me today it’s all about our approach to God in prayer. Awareness of “the bigger picture” of our lives, humility, trust and love ought to guide our desires as we do not speak for ourselves alone but for the good of the whole. Ultimately, wrapping all of our prayer in a mantle of surrender to the wisdom of God will assure what is best for us, even if we can’t see it in the present. And that, it seems, is the only way to live.