Jesus, You love me, right?
It's the foundation of many prayers, the kind of innocent-sounding question meant to set the stage for something a bit more diabolical. It's the start of a logic train that ends with something like, "Jesus, if You love me like You say You do, then You ought to give me this precious thing that I want, oughtn't You? It's just so precious a thing...."
It's the kind of prayer we're prone to praying, especially when we want something. Especially when we want something that we think is something "good." Jesus wants to give us good things, so He ought to give us good things. And the best way to get Him to give us the good things that we want is to get Him to promise to give us good things before we ask for whatever it is that's on our minds.
This is exactly what James and John did when they came to Jesus with their bold requests, like wanting to sit at His right and His left in the Kingdom. They came to Jesus and they said, "Hey. We've got something on our minds, something we've been thinking about for awhile now. And it's a good thing, a really good thing. It will be very good for us. We want You to give us whatever it is we ask for, knowing that we've already told You it's a good thing. Will You give us what we ask for, Jesus?"
Because of course, at this point, if Jesus says yes, they're in. They can ask for anything, and He's bound to give it to them. He has to. He's committed. It's everything we want our prayers to be - guaranteed fulfilled before we even ask because, hey, we're only asking for good things here.
But Jesus isn't falling for it. He never does. He doesn't say no, because of course that's a problem. That sets up a Jesus who says He doesn't want to give you good things, and we can't have that. But He doesn't say yes, either. He knows better than to lock Himself into an unknown agreement with a fallen human heart.
What Jesus says is, tell Me more. Tell Me what it is that you want Me to give you. Tell Me what's so "good" that you just had to ask Me for it.
In other words, Jesus asks, "What is good?"
The answer in James's and John's case is what is so often is in our case - it's something that would be good for them, in the sense that they would come into a deal of esteem and power and prestige and honor and so forth, but it's not a thing that is good in and of itself. It's not objectively good, and it's certainly not even subjectively good for anyone but James and John. (And us, if we're asking.)
That's why Jesus asked for more. What is this "good" that you speak of? What's "good" to you? Is it good just because it gets you something that you want, or is it good for the sake of goodness? Is it good from behind your eyes, or is it still good from the outside looking in? How do you understand what good is?
Because He'll give you what is good, but I'm telling you - that ain't it.
And we know that it isn't. We confess that ourselves when we try to get Jesus to commit before we even tell Him what it is. When we start keeping secrets and dancing around our desires, trying to paint them in a certain light by putting just the right sort of angle on it, we know it's not really good. We know it's not really God-pleasing. We know it's not something that Jesus would give us in His right mind; that's why we're trying to get Him out of His right mind and into some sort of obligation.
But Jesus never falls for it. And thank God He doesn't.
So just start with what you want. Just start with what you're asking for. If it's good, He'll already know it's good, and He's all about giving you good things. If it's not good, if it's not really something that's truly, objectively good, you're never going to back Him into a corner on it.
"But You love me, Jesus, don't You?"
Precisely, He does.