When We Don’t Know What We Are Asking


September 14, 2016

Matthew 20:20-23

20 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.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”


Anyone who has ever had children in sports knows something of this drama. Mom or Dad goes to the coach and asks for more playing time for Johnny or Susie.

I can almost hear their Mom talking to them for months about this. “You boys have got to come out and ask Jesus for those thrones. I tell you, he’s going to give it to another one of those boys. And didn’t he teach you, “Ask and you shall receive?” “Come on Mom!” they must have responded “It’s not like that with Jesus.” Finally she saw her moment, grabbed the boys and side-barred with the Son of God. Something tells me the boys absolutely hated that it was happening like this while secretly hoping it would work.

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.”

Give her an A for boldness. But this is not how it works is it. Everyone is seeking some kind of advantage; to get themselves and/or their kids a leg up on everyone else. Everyone is trying to get to know a guy who knows a guy. Why do we vie for position and advantage? Are we afraid if we don’t it won’t happen (whatever “it” may be)?

This is the way of the self-centered kingdom—the one we are all born into and without the intervention of the mercy of God, the one in which we will live our whole lives. Jesus simply does not play ball in that kingdom. His deal is completely different. All of our self interested, self serving, advantage seeking ways will not work in the world Jesus is making. He says as much:

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them.

It’s like he’s saying, “So what you are asking me is can you sign up your sons to be at the end of the line, to get the worst seats in the house, right? Because if that’s what you want I can do that, and the truth is that’s actually the only way to the top in my kingdom.

I think what we mostly want to do is to put a little Jesus overlay on top of our pre-existing value system. That turns out like trying to add a thin layer of jello on top of our green bean casserole and hope it congeals like that. It just doesn’t make sense to Jesus, and still it makes perfect sense to us.

“You don’t know what you are asking.”

I wonder how often Jesus may be saying that in response to what we are asking or the way we are praying.


Lord Jesus, allow us to begin with the confession that we may not know what we are asking. We don’t know what to ask. So how about we ask you to help us to become completely given to you; to be completely and irrevocably yours. Grant us the courage to let go of our self interested, advantage seeking ways. And by all means, save us from our paltry attempts to live our lives with a foot in both kingdoms, which winds up being neither. In your name, Jesus. Amen.


1. Why do we always look for ways to get an advantage?

2. What does that tell us about ourselves?

3. What do you think of this way we try to keep our own value system and put a  little Jesus overlay on it?


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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. jd.walt@seedbed.com.


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.