It is a interesting question: who asked Jesus the questions about the two disciples sitting on either side of him in his kingdom? Was it John and James, or was it their ambitious mother?

Mark 10.35-45

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

So who asked Jesus this question?

The answer gives us an insight into the nature of the gospel records. You see we have two different versions of this story, and it seems highly unlikely that they are two different stories, for if you got the answer Jesus gave ONCE you would not ask to go through it again!!

In Mark’s Gospel, always the most immediate and hard hitting gospel, it is the two disciples who ask Jesus about sitting on his right and left in Jesus’ glory. If we read the same story in, say, Matthew, it is not them but their mum who poses the question!

Matthew 20.20

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him…

It as if one writer has copied the other in great detail but changed the opening figure of the story!

  • Who has copied whom?
  • Who has changed the initial story?
  • Why has the story been changed?

There are no definitive answers, but the questions themselves help us understand how God inspired the writers

Everyone in the know reckons that Mark wrote first, using first hand evidence from Peter. Being outside the elite, Mark told the story as he heard it, without either gilding the lily, or softening the uncomfortable facts. So when two leading disciples were reported to be so audacious as to push themselves forward for a place in the Kingdom, Mark tells it straight. Matthew, on the other hand, recalls that their mother was there, and he may even have seen her pushing them forward. As if she was asking them, not the James and John.

And so he puts the words in her mouth, not theirs.

Is it true? …As good as.
Does it convey what was happening? … Absolutely

What Matthew’s version has done is convey the gist of a conversation which would have taken many minutes, include all the characters, and give us an insight on the source of human ambition – to please our parents often – and the danger of self-promotion – we get what we ask for! And he does it all in a few short verses.

We must be wary of ambition from whatever source, and learn to use it rather than be controlled by it. The condition is that it leads us to give God glory, not ourselves (or our children!!).

Preached on 21 October 2018 at 900 am.