This is the third time that Mark shows Jesus explaining to the disciples the destiny and meaning of his mission, and three times the disciples clearly don’t “get it”. His predictions are really the summary of Mark’s Gospel as Mark knows it. First, Peter tries to hush Jesus up for speaking about suffering and being killed, but Jesus rebukes Peter and tries to set his and the disciples’ thinking straight. Then on the road to Capernaum Jesus notices a little argument going on among them, and later confronts them, only to find out that they’ve been bickering about who’s “the greatest”. So, Jesus uses a visual aid in the form of a little child on his lap: a symbol of one who is totally helpless and dispossessed, and how this is the kind of simplicity they’re to imitate as God’s servants, even as he will on the Cross. But their only response is to change the subject and to rant about someone who was also preaching in Jesus’ name, and whom they tried to stop “because he was not following us”. And now, after marching them in single-file on the road, according to seniority, as was the custom in those days, the young “Sons of Thunder”, James and John, have the audacity to ignore what Jesus has been saying and to initiate a power grab: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.” How would you have reacted, had you been there??
Stephen B. Chapman, Old Testament professor at Duke University has commented very pointedly on this text: “James and John McZebedee matriculated at my seminary again this fall. The "Sons of Entitlement," I call them. They are usually -- but not always -- young and white in addition to being male. They have typically grown up in the church, attended Christian colleges and majored in religion. They like to refer to their mental index of Theologians Worth Reading and readily scoff at those theologians they have not read (and so are not worth reading). They patronize second-career students, female students, minority students and those ministerial students who are without apparent academic ambitions. Their fathers are frequently pastors. It is possible, these Sons of Entitlement piously concede in candid moments, that God may be calling them to become professors or bishops. They are rather easy to dislike...Surely [Jesus] must realize that Zebedee’s boys need to straighten out their values and goals. After all, their primary concern is where they will sit in glory, not whether they can actively pursue a ministry or earn rightful acclaim.”