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The Hidden Right and Left

What were James and John thinking when they infuriated the other Ten by asking for the honor of sitting at Jesus’s right and left— in his coming Kingdom? (Mark 10:35-37, 41)

Jesus had just warned the Group, “We’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.” (Mark 10:33-34).

With this dark prediction, and the way Mark tells it, we might wonder whether the two brothers wanted their Leader to know they trusted him. But Matthew tells us in his Gospel that it was their mother who prompted the request for her two sons (Matthew 20:20-28).

In any case, Jesus says the brothers (and their mother) don’t know what they are asking. He asks whether they are able to drink from the cup that he is about to drink from? When they indicate that they are ready to do whatever it takes to follow him, their Teacher says, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen” (Mark 10:38-40).

In N.T. Wright’s book, “The Day the Revolution Began”, the author says, “Only as Mark’s story reaches its grisly end do readers realize what is meant.

James and John have been asking for the places at Jesus’s right and left so as to accompany him as he completes the glorious work of bringing in God’s kingdom. . . . But those places are reserved for the two who are crucified alongside him as he hangs there with “King of the Jews” above the head.

Is it possible? Could a sign written in three languages, a crown of thorns, and two criminals hanging—at Jesus’s right and left— be hiding honor, goodness, glory, and power far greater than two brothers, their mother, and the rest of the family ever imagined?

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