This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on October 18, 2015.
Before eavesdropping on the conversation between Jesus and his disciples, we need to place this text in its immediate context. The Revised Common Lectionary omits verses 32-34, the third and final passion prediction in Mark’s Gospel. While the preacher does not necessarily need to preach the omitted verses, it is important to take note of them. In them, Jesus clearly states that his journey to Jerusalem will end by both the government and religious authorities mocking, spitting upon, flogging, and killing him. The text also notes that Jesus is walking ahead of them, confidently leading the way as the disciples follow behind.
Jesus has just uttered these words when James and John rush forward and make their request. Their request is all the more shocking given that Jesus has just told them what awaits him in Jerusalem. One pictures a parishioner announcing she has cancer in prayer meeting and the pastor running up to her immediately afterward to ask if she might leave part of her estate to the church. Did the disciples not hear Jesus? Are they not concerned for him, even for themselves? Can they not offer any words of comfort?