Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. - Mark 10:35-38
Every year around Christmastime, children are encouraged to ask Santa for the things they want for Christmas. Inevitably, they end up asking Santa for a pony, or a motorcycle, or something equally as hazardous or cumbersome that there's no way a parent will acquire. Just like the sons of Zebedee, in a sense, these kids don't know what they're asking. They don't realize that ponies and motorcycles cost thousands of dollars. They don't realize they could get seriously hurt around either. And they're not thinking of the responsibility and discipline that accompanies having a pony or a motorcycle, they're just thinking of how much fun it will be to ride.
For adults, sometimes it seems like it would be great to be famous, powerful, and in charge. It's no pony or motorcycle, but it still sounds like a good time to James and John. As sons of a fisherman, James and John probably didn't have the cushiest (or best-smelling) life, so it makes sense that they would ask their rabbi/teacher, their future King, to promote them to high places once he was crowned. But they really have no idea what they're asking.
Jesus' Kingdom isn't like earthly kingdoms. It's not a place where the rich, beautiful, and powerful run everything and get everything they want, living lives of luxury, security, and good fortune while the poor do their bidding. Jesus' Kingdom is a place where all people care more about their neighbor's wellbeing than they do about their own, a place where love and kindness is so valued that those who are the most selfless end up being the most revered. In Jesus' Kingdom, the King doesn't sit fat and happy on his throne but, rather, sacrifices of himself for the good of all. It's a kingdom where the power dynamics are turned on their heads, and James and John just don't get it.
Now, it's hard to know what you're missing if you're missing it, but...how often do we do the same thing as these guys? How often do we ask for things based on our earthly understanding and earthly values and think that surely we are asking for the right things? I'm not sure any of us will have an accurate answer to that, but it's probably more often than we'd like. Praise God that our Lord is loving and compassionate enough to stick with us and gently teach us how we can more value the things HE values.
Dear Lord, thank you for being patient with our selfish ambition, our illusions of grandeur, or even the ways we simply do not realize our own subjectivity. Thank you for showing us, in yourself, such an unexpected example of leading with humility. We pray that you would transform us to look like you. In Jesus' name, Amen.