In the Gospel Reading, James and John ask Jesus if they can sit on his right and on his left in his glory. The other ten apostles are indignant when they learn of it.
In response to the apostles’ indignation, Jesus gives them a lesson on glory. On worldly views, the great ones are the rulers. On Jesus’ view, the servants are the truly great ones. Real glory doesn’t come from lording it over others, but from serving others. Jesus is most glorious in his crucifixion, when he has lost everything but love.
But notice that Jesus does not respond to James and John by explaining to them what true glory is. What Jesus says to James and John shows us what those two apostles were thinking, just as Jesus’ response to the others shows us what they were indignant about.
To James and John, Jesus says, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” This is the cup that Jesus prayed might pass from him. It is his crucifixion. So James and John have the right idea of glory. They are not asking for thrones in heaven, as the other apostles think they are. They are asking whether they might be crucified with Jesus, on either side of him.
And here is the most powerful thing to notice in this story. Jesus does not rebuke James and John for their request. He grants it. They will drink his cup with him.
But Jesus denies them their request to be beside him in his glory. That gift is already prepared by God for others, Jesus says. And which others? Well, for those two thieves, crucified on either side of Jesus.* Who else?
God gave that great gift that James and John wanted—not to any of the apostles, but to two unknown, low-down, petty criminals.
And what happened?
One of those thieves wasted the gift. The other one was glorious, wasn’t he?