Matthew 20:20-21 – Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 “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.” NIV
Salome (who quite possibly was the sister of Jesus’ mother, Mary) came to Jesus and asked Him for a favor. It’s interesting that she is the one doing the asking. Could it be that “the sons of thunder” were asking their mother to seek this favor from Jesus? Mark’s Gospel (10:35) has the brothers asking Jesus themselves. Or is this just a mother wanting the best for her sons? I tend to think that it was a little of both because the brothers were with their mother and responded to Jesus’ follow-up question.
Now these were all people who were close to Jesus whether or not they were related. (I tend to think that they were.) They had followed Him during His ministry, and at least two of them would be at the foot of the cross. When they asked this favor of Jesus, they were expecting that Jesus was about to “come into His kingdom.” Since James and John along with Peter had been in Jesus’ inner circle and because they were related, they expected positions of authority in the new kingdom. In the way of the world, their request was not out of line. They were in at the beginning with Jesus, and they wanted to reap some of the blessings from their years of following Him. Unfortunately, they did not know the rest of the story about the coming kingdom and the price that would be required to establish it. (More of this discussion with the next question.)
I think that Jesus asked this question to clarify their intent. It appears that much of their intent was personal blessing and perhaps gain. We often ask God to “bless” us or someone we love. This is not a bad starting point in our requests. It reflects loving others as you love yourself. Jesus would continue to ask us, “What is it you want?” This is a clarifying question meant to help us think beyond ourselves.
I routinely pray the Prayer of Jabez:
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. (1 Chronicles 4:10 – NIV)
Jabez is asking to be blessed by increased property (influence), God’s hand upon him (Holy Spirit), and freedom from harm (both giving and receiving) so that he would have a pain free life. That’s what he wanted. Jabez is pretty direct and clear in his prayer.
However, in light of what we know as New Testament followers of Jesus, is wanting this enough? Do we settle for personal “blessings” and overlook the greater mission of God in this world? When Jesus asks me, “What is it you want?” what am I prepared to tell him? Have I looked beyond me self and my loved ones? Have I done spiritual warfare for the Kingdom’s sake or do I settle for some sort of earthly blessing? Is is possible that God wants us to want both?