Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Mark 10:35


Hands held together in prayer over a Bible.In the closing verses of Mark 10, James and John, two brothers who followed Jesus, don’t look so good. In Mark 10:33-34, Jesus had predicted that he, as the Son of Man, would be tortured and killed, and then rise again. In the next verse, James and John approached Jesus and said, “Teacher, . . . we want you to do whatever we ask” (10:35). Wow! Now that’s some request. It’s as if they wanted a blank check from Jesus.

But then James and John top their own audacity by telling Jesus what they wanted: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (10:37). Now that’s even bolder, don’t you think? It seems as if the brothers had paid no attention to what Jesus said would happen to him as the Son of Man. Moreover, it appears that they asked for this promotion to unique glory alongside Jesus in the presence of the other disciples, who, by implication, would have to settle for less honorable positions in the court of Jesus (see 10:41). Like I said, James and John don’t look so good in this passage.

Of course Jesus soon pointed out their folly, and I’ll get to this tomorrow. But for now I want to reflect upon the extraordinary freedom James and John felt with Jesus. The fact that they asked such an inappropriate question shows that they weren’t screening their conversation, making sure it was all theologically and relationally correct. The brothers said just what they thought and felt. This suggests that, though they honored Jesus as their master, even as the one who would reign over God’s kingdom, they nevertheless felt an extraordinary freedom to tell Jesus exactly what was on their mind.

We live in a curious tension when it comes to the Lord. On the one hand, we rightly bow before him, offering ourselves in humble worship. On the other hand, we experience friendship with God that invites us to be completely honest with him (see Hebrews 4:16). The more we grow in relationship with God, the more we will find ourselves sometimes saying to God things that we just wouldn’t say to anyone else. We can speak freely of our hopes and dreams, our fears and follies, even our selfish ambitions. We can pray, not just openly, but audaciously.

This does not mean, of course, that the Lord will give us whatever we ask. His response is sometimes “No” and at other times “Wait.” God does what is best for his kingdom, including us, which may or may not be what we would prefer at any given moment. For me, the fact that God will do what’s right actually gives me even more freedom to ask for what I want. I don’t have to worry that I will bend God’s will to my own fallen desires. I can trust that God will receive my prayers, will look upon me with compassion, and do what’s right.


How free are you in your communication with the Lord?

Are there some things you hold back from telling him? Why?

What do you think (or fear) might happen if you told God everything that’s in your heart?


Lord Jesus, it’s easy for me to look down my long nose at James and John for so badly missing the point of your mission, not to mention their selfish audacity. Yet, as I think about this scene, I’m sure there are many, many times when I have come to you in just such a posture. Thank you for listening to me, for not sending me away.

Even more, thank you for the freedom I have to tell you everything that’s on my mind and in my heart, even the things that don’t look very good at all. What an incredible gift it is to be able to open my life to you!

All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for the freedom you have given me to speak so honestly with you. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Life in the Wilderness: Journey to the New World (Hebrews 3:7–4:16)

One Comment

  • James and John demonstrated how much we are all alike. Perhaps these words were exchanged in same time frame that Jesus shared what He did in John 16…….”ask what you will in my name and the Father will give it to you.” How often we hear what we want to hear and disregard the hard stuff. Hence,as the Master teacher He patiently repeats what’s necessary.

Comments are closed.