Why did James and John want to sit next to Jesus?

In Mark 10:35-45 we read:

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. 36 And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37 They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.
38 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39 And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40 But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.

If Peter was the one with the primacy as we Catholics assert, why did James and John fight to be in the prime position? Isn’t this a case where the Protestant claim (or the Orthodox claim) that Peter was just one of 12 apostles rather than the rock upon which the church should be built? Shouldn’t James and John have realized that Peter was first among them?

They were pushed by their mother.

Jesus’ answer is not ‘yes’.

I guess I’m confused how you get from a couple guys asking Jesus a question about the future (in thy Glory), to the question itself being the source of questioning Peter’s primacy.

I see the question as a couple inner circle guys jockeying for a future position and being shot down kindly (not just a straight ‘no’).

That is a very vulgar response. Jesus said, ‘The place to my right and left, It is not mine to give’; quite clearly, he was telling them with his heart, that ‘it is yours to make’.

… “He was quite clearly” nothing. That’s your interpretation, and suspect to boot.

James and John (prompted in part by Mom) seem to be jockeying for authority in a hierarchical kingdom–at this point in the story, they don’t seem to understand that Jesus is not like earthly kings who sit on majestic thrones and rule people with an iron fist. They seem to be imagining him to be an earthly, militant Messiah.

Jesus’ response–“That’s not mine to give”–is ambiguous, but suggests that he is indicating his crucifixion, which has been ordained by God. Elsewhere he says to the brothers, “Can you drink of my cup?” to indicate that while they are seeking glory, he is seeking to serve, and that he is doing something they are not yet prepared to do. They are like little children, who do not yet understand the way things really are (see the following illustration in Mark).

Exactly! They were thinking of a kingdom on earth. They still didn’t really understand all that Jesus was teaching.

Thanks for your response, Rocks.

If the answer was clear, the thread wouldn’t have been started!

What is clear is you and I don’t share the same definition of vulgar!

Have a good one!

But why didn’t they understand that Jesus was going to build his kingdom on the rock of Peter? They still seemed to think they could become the leaders. So why didn’t Jesus say, “Peter will be the leader”?

James and John were asking to sit at His side “in His glory”

His response is similar to the Teaching about who is truly the greatest in the kingdom.

He tries to tell them that how much of God’s Will we do on earth is how much we are preparing our place in His glory. They are over confident and He is sympathetic by telling them that they will receive the Baptism of His merits.

There’s a distinction with a merited place within His grace and the appointed possition of leadership within His Church. That’s why in Luke 22:24-34 He first tells them that whoever WILL be the greatest depends on how much they are willing to serve, yet He then addresses “Simon” and prepares him that Satan demanded to test him. We know that we are all tested by the Devil, but why then is Simon specifically demanded by the Devil? Because he was given the Chief leadership possition in the Church.

What God had in mind for the 12 Apostles was not contrary to His plan for Peter:

8 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of man shall sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Mt 19:28–29

Maybe they never understood that Peter was going to be the leader of the church.

When I was a little girl growing up – and that was the reading from the Gospel at Mass – I would ask my Mom what that meant.

She said it’s like you and your brother and your sister. You kids are always fighting over who gets to sit in the chair over there (she pointed to the most comfy chair in the living room).

“Jesus got first dibbs on the best chair in the house.”

Now, as an adult (supposedly :rolleyes:) – I can translate that like of Mom’s into a more theological meaning.

Yup. Parents ARE the first teachers of the Faith.

Thanks, Mom!

(please pray for her – she’s passed away several years ago)

After Judas Iscariot’s demise. How would Jesus’ promise work then?

Answer: Ask Peter. :smiley:


I think James and John were young and rather impetuous. I don’t think they fully realized what Jesus had just told them about what was going to happen to Him in Jerusalem. As someone else said, they didn’t understand that Jesus’ Kingdom was not what they understood a kingdom to be on earth. They probably imagined it to be some kind of political government that He would set up, and they would sit by His side to help Him to rule over the people. They had no idea what would actually happen to them, or what they would have to do after Jesus died.

But, I don’t really think their question to Jesus had much to do with Peter’s position within the group. They were just trying to get Jesus to promise them a ‘better seat at the table’. But, Jesus told them that the positions they wanted were already promised to others, and He could not change them. It wasn’t His decision to make. Most likely it was up to the Father to decide who would ‘sit’ where. It was the Father who chose Peter to lead them, not Jesus, so it makes perfect sense that He would also make the final decision about the position appointed to the rest of them (and us) in the Kingdom, too.

First of all, Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, which is technically where He comes into His glory. Does anyone really think Peter or any of the Apostles would sit at the right hand of Jesus? Or, would it be Mary? I tend to think that would be much more likely, so their question is completely out in left field when you really think about it, because none of them will ever sit in either one of the positions that they wanted. :shrug:


I thought this would be helpful here.

On this talk, at about the 18:30-20:00 mark, Fr. John talks about this event and Jesus’ response…


Take care,


I would absolutely be honored to do so. Pray for your mom that is.

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