James and John were ambitious to sit on Jesus’ right and left sides. Out of the 70, Jesus had chosen 12; out of the 12, James and John were among the three closest to Him. Surely this meant great favor ~ favor that would permit them to sit nearest to Him in His Kingdom.
Salome, their mother, came to Jesus asking for this special favor. No doubt James and John had put her up to it. The embarrassment would be hers, not theirs, should He decide otherwise. She even bowed down while making the request of Him. Jesus’ reply was…
“You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.” [Matthew 20:23]
Position placement is God’s job. When He calls us, He places us.
We note that James’ and John’s presumptuous replies were: “We are able.” [Matthew 20:22] Their ambition was tucked behind their mother’s skirt ~ pride being the root. Jesus addressed the sons, not the mother.
At this point, we would imagine that He would be thoroughly disgusted with these two close disciples. Had they not learned any more truth than this? Yet being meek and lowly in heart, He explained the attributes of a true disciple in verses 26-28.
“…But whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slaves; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
“We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” [I John 3:16 NAS]