The first reading from Isaiah depicts a figure identified as the Suffering Servant who completes God’s will, not in spite of but by means of his suffering. This was a significant lesson for the many Jewish people who believed sufferings to be a punishment for having offended God. Christians consider the Suffering Servant to prefigure Jesus and his redemptive suffering.
In the gospel we find the brothers James and John try to bypass the other disciples to request positions of authority in the earthly kingdom they expected Jesus to establish. In Matthew’s gospel (20:20-21) it is their mother who takes her boys in tow and puts the question to Jesus. Their boldness may have resulted from considering themselves Jesus’ favorites as two of the three (along with Peter) selected to accompany Jesus on special occasions when the others were told to stay behind. Jesus doesn’t get upset with them, knowing that, once they truly understand the mission which will be entrusted to them, the good in them will win out over any selfish tendencies. Such is the hope for all of us that, whatever special favors we might request from God, we will in the end see even our sufferings in the light of faith in Jesus and offer them up along with his as part of the mission entrusted to us.