How often do we secretly find ourselves standing with James and John, hoping for the public recognition of being with Jesus in glory? Having read the Scriptures and learned something of manners, few of us would be as unsophisticated and obvious as they were. (Matthew 20:20-23 makes their mother the petitioner, thus salvaging something of the brothers' reputation.)
Recognizing that the temptation to seek status would never leave the church, the evangelists preserved memories like this one to get our attention and remind us that living our vocation is not meant to be easy. It is meant to be transformative.
If we put the scene into modern terms, we can imagine that James and John were seeking celebrity while Jesus was calling for solidarity. They wanted to look like superheroes, while he understood the cost of redemption. The three readings we hear today work together to help us grapple with our participation in the paschal mystery.