I wonder if we can be a bit tough on James and John in this story from the Gospel this weekend. Perhaps they have had an unnecessarily harsh press throughout history. They come to Jesus and, in verse 35, say “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you”. The others disciples react badly to their request. But in actual fact, they are only doing what Jesus had said to them previously. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, “Ask, and it shall be given to you…” And again in John 14:13, Jesus says, “I will do whatever you ask in my name…” It was the feast days of St Teresa of Avila on Friday. She is a giant in the world of Catholic spirituality. She said once “Do God a favour and ask for something great…”
So, fair dues to James and John, they must have been a bit confused by the whole situation. Jesus is telling the disciples to ask for things and then, when they do, they get told off. For 2000 years people have labeled them egotistical.
To understand James and John in this way is to also make some sense of our own prayers of petition. We too ask God for favours – perhaps not knowing the enormity of what we are requesting, or perhaps not knowing the full ramifications of what this favour might bring about if answered in the way we hope. Often too we are asked to bear certain things for a greater good down the track.
As we continue this weekend our Gospel might go some way towards explaining why sometimes it appears that God does not hear our prayers. God does always hear them, it’s just that their fulfillment may come later when a greater plan has been revealed.