TO SIT AT HIS RIGHT AND AT HIS LEFT WHEN HE COMES INTO HIS GLORY
(A biblical refection on THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME [YEAR B] – 21 October 2018)
Gospel Reading: Mark 10:35-45
First Reading: Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalms: Psalm 33:4-5,18-19,20,22; Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16
The Scripture Text
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Him, and said to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what You are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at My right hand or at My left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to Him and said to them, “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45 RSV)
In today’s Gospel, James and John ask Jesus if they could sit at His right and at His left when He comes into His glory. Like many of the Jews of that day, these two brothers were expecting a political/military Messiah through whom God would defeat their enemies, conquer the world, and establish a Kingdom of justice and peace (that’s what they meant when they talked about Jesus coming into His glory).
The seats on either side of the royal throne were places of honor the king reserved for the prime minister and the prince successor. Those who sat in these seats were in a very powerful position because, unlike everyone else who had to request a special audience with the king and perhaps wait days or weeks for the opportunity to talk to him, they merely had to lean over and whisper in the king’s ear. Therefore, we can conclude that James’ and John’s request to sit at Jesus’ right and left was nothing less than a bold attempt to gain power by trying to get Jesus to guarantee they would occupy the places of honor when He, the Messiah, established His Kingdom. There are two explanations why James and John thought they deserved special treatment.
Scripture scholars believe James and John were probably part of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples because whenever the Gospels list the twelve apostles,, they always name Peter first and James and John second and third. It seems like Jesus favored these three apostles and even allowed them to witness events the other apostles did not (e.g. the transfiguration and when Jesus brought a little girl back to life).
According to three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), James and John were fishing with their father Zebedee and the hired hands when Jesus called them to be His disciples. Zebedee’s fishing business must have been providing him with a comfortable living if he was able to employ not only his own sons, but others as well. Therefore, since James and John were from a more financially prosperous family than most people, including the other apostles, they may have thought they were better and deserved special honors.
Tradition tells us all of the apostles were martyrs except John. However, today’s Gospel ends with Jesus predicting that John, too, will die for his faith. Was John a martyr or did he live to a ripe old age? No one knows for sure.
The apostles experienced petty jealousies and they competed for Jesus’ attention and approval. Jesus told them not to worry about who was the greatest but to focus on serving others.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 214-215.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we hereby commit ourselves to You, to love one another sincerely, to serve one another humbly, as You have loved and served us. Amen.
Jakarta, 19 October 2018
A Christian Pilgrim