Today’s Gospel contains a response of the disciples to Jesus’ third and final passion prediction (Mk 10:32–34).
From the very beginning it is obvious that the disciples have misunderstood all three of Jesus’ passion predictions. He is stressing suffering and death and his disciples are preoccupied with power, honor, and glory. Jesus and his disciples are on a collision course. Even the corrective teachings Jesus offers to counter the disciples’ misunderstandings go unheeded.
1) A place of glory. Immediately following his third passion prediction James and John come to Jesus requesting places of honor on the occasion of his entering into his final glory. It is clear that these disciples do not know what they are requesting. When questioned by Jesus they misunderstand what he is saying. Jesus asks the disciples if they can drink the cup he will drink or be baptized with the baptism with which he will be baptized. They respond with a firm, “We can.” However, ironically they have no idea that Jesus is making reference to his quickly approaching suffering and death.
2) Jesus does not determine status in the kingdom of God. Jesus affirms that the disciples will indeed share in his cup and in his baptism but he is not referring to places of glory. He is referring to suffering and death. Jesus then informs the disciples that he is not the one who determines status in the kingdom of God. That is God’s prerogative. Meanwhile the other 10 disciples overheard all of this and became very angry with James and John. Do they think that James and John made an inappropriate request of Jesus? Or might they be angry because they think James and John received what they requested and the remaining 10 have been left out?
3) Leadership means service. Knowing that the disciples are preoccupied with positions of power, honor, and glory, Jesus instructs them that authentic leadership is not about lording it over people and ruling them. It is about service. Discipleship is rooted in service. Greatness is giving up quests for power and honor and turning all one’s efforts to serving others. Jesus himself is the model for this. His whole life was service. He served totally by giving his life as a ransom for many. This is the real meaning of glory and honor.