Many want position and privilege, but, Chrysostom reminds us, these things are not to be had without a price – and that price is a willingness to follow Christ to the Cross. He, like the Venerable Bede, notes that the sons of Zebedee, like the other Apostles, had heard Jesus, but still not understood the fullness of his message. They were assuming that there would be an earthly kingdom to come, and they might have their reward now, in it; they thought the time had come for crowns and rewards.
Bede notes that, like Peter, James and John were renamed by Jesus: Peter, on account of the strength and endurance of his faith, was named ‘Rock’, whilst James and John were called Boanerges or ‘sons of thunder’ because they heard (along with Peter on Mt Tabor) the Father honouring the Lord, and they recognised more of the mysteries of the faith than the others. They truly loved Jesus and clung to him, but they failed to grasp quite what following their beloved Master would mean.
This, as St Augustine comments, allows Jesus to remind them of the need for humility and self-sacrifice and the narrow way, which is to suffer in Christ with Christ and for Christ; if we would rise with him, we must first die with him. Chrysostom adds that Jesus seizes this opportunity to teach them, and us, about what it means to follow him. They were talking about an earthly kingdom, though he had never promised them this. He is able to bring them to a realisation of the true path which they will have to tread – as well as the glory at the end of it.
In the martyrdom of Polycarp, the bishop declares, as he goes to meet his death for the faith, that he follows the path of the sons of thunder; he knows now the path and will pay the price – confident that he will receive his reward.
Here, Jesus calls his crucifixion a cup, and his death a baptism. He comes to the cross willingly, because it is the road to the baptism by which the world is washed clean of sin; he knows he will rise again. He now, Chrystostom adds, goes to erase the curse of Adam, to triumph over death, to open paradise and to throw down death.
St Gregory Nazianzus adds that Christ is our sanctification, his purity will make us pure; he is our redemption because he sets us free from the chains of sin; he is the ransom for the sins of the world. the expiation for our sins. Through his suffering we are redeemed, and if we must follow him we shall surely rise with and in him.