TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018
WHAT NOT TO ASK FOR
Readings: 1st- Isiah 53:10-11; 2nd- Heb. 4:14-16; Gospel- Mk. 10:35-45
Did you see the request by the two sons of Zebedee in the gospel of today? Did that strike you as a form of prayer? Let’s assess the implications of James and John’s as presented by Mark. They come to Jesus and say to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” (Mk. 10:35). Some bible version like the New Jerusalem bible put it this way, “Master, we want you to do us a favor.” Then Jesus says to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” (Mk. 10: 36). The theme of our parish preaching for our Total Discipleship campaign is prayer, and in the encounter between Jesus and the sons of Zebedee, we identify different aspects of prayer. The reactions of the other ten apostles towards James and John for making such an expensive request tell us how bad they feel towards them. The other apostles feel indignant with James and John. They feel bad that these two should make such a selfish request. Jesus condemns such, and reprimands the apostles against indignation and selfishness. He invites them to love and service. Our focus today is on the implications of James and John’s request in relation to what we ask for in prayer. Despite the fact that their request sparks off some controversies among the disciples, they present us with important lessons for our prayer life. I will divide this into two parts namely, the process of prayer and the content of prayer.
- Process of prayer: This refers to the steps taken by James and John to put forward their request before Jesus. Here, we consider the following:
Holy Boldness/courage:James and John manifest a bold attitude in their request. They move straight up to Jesus to ask for their needs. They consider their need important and so, go for it with conviction. As Christians, we need to be bold in our prayer life since courage eliminates fear in the spiritual journey. Several times, we’ve heard that prayer is part of our daily living. That means, we ought to pray as we undertake our daily tasks. We pray before meals, before sleeping, when we wake up, when we embark on a journey. We pray before starting a project, before commencing an important conversation. We pray in the course of interacting with others at work, etc. We need boldness to express our faith. If for instance, we say the Grace before meals at home, are we able to say the Grace before meals when we eat out or is the Grace before meals limited only to meals that we eat in our houses? We need courage to pray.
Intentionality:James and John are intentional about their needs. They identify it and make affirmative statements before Jesus, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Their intention is clear to Jesus because they know what they want. We must come to God with clear intentions in prayer. Although Jesus says, your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8), it is still proper to come to God with clear intentions in prayer. God loves it when we make affirmative statements, “I want you to do this for me,” “Grant me this favor,” etc.
Recognition of God’s readiness to answer:This is clear with James and John. They step up to Jesus to present their request. This implies that they recognize that Jesus not only has the power to do what they ask of him, but is ready to answer. Prayer predicts God’s presence. It makes us rely on God. We must be convinced of God’s constant presence in our lives. To ask him means to believe in him. It means we have to eliminate all doubts in our request from God.
Listening for feedback:When James and John approach Jesus with their request, they wait for feedback from him. They wait for his response. They listen to Jesus speak. As we know, prayer is an interaction with God. It is privileged communication. The greatest challenge in this interaction becomes not our talking but mostly our ability to listen. It is always said that God gave us two ears and one mouth but the one mouth talks more frequently than the two ears do listen. But you know the ear is amazing. Recently, I got a beautiful image describing how the two ears form the shape of the heart when placed side by side each other. The artist who designed that image remarked, “the word ‘ear’ sits right in the middle of the word ‘heart’. That means, if you want someone’s heart, learn to listen to them. Also, if you want God’s heart, learn to listen to God.” It is in prayer that we hear God speak. I encourage you to learn to listen to God. He speaks.
- Content:The second aspect of the request of James and John is what I refer to as the
content. What are they asking for? What do they want from God? This is where we find issues with their request, “Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory” (Mk. 10:37). Whereas there is nothing wrong with the process of their request, there is problem with the content. Their colleagues fault them. Jesus equally redirects their request by asking them the question, “Can you drink the cup that I shall drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I shall be baptized?” Jesus tries to purify the intentions of his disciples following the request from James and John. The content depicts selfishness and ambition.
We can’t overemphasize the fact that God answers our prayers according to his will and in a manner that will yield us good. In the case of James and John, Jesus doesn’t say no outrightly. He teaches them what not to ask: don’t be selfish. Don’t be unnecessarily ambitious. Avoid prayers that will create division. Shun arrogance. Jesus educates the disciples, “No, anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all” (Mk. 10:44-45). Let us ask God to purify our intention when we pray.
In the prayer example of James and John in today’s gospel, we see something of importance: what to ask for and what not to ask for in prayer. Jesus is available for us and invites us to make our request to our Father who hears us. Always be specific and assertive before God who is your Father. Be humble and submissive to his divine will in prayer. Ask for the spirit to serve.
What do we not have to ask for?Anything depicts our selfish desires and ambitions. Don’t pray to wish away sufferings in the pursuit of glory. Don’t make requests that make others feel inferior. Never focus on power, or possession, those are not the way to greatness.
Let’s call God our Father for help in our needs. He is waiting. He is asking us, “What do you wish me to do for you?” A good request receives positive and quick answer. A somewhat good request is redirected for better outcome. A bad request is taken care of by God. He listens.