Sitting at the right and the left.

Nathaniel, in his homilette at service last night, wondered aloud for whom it had been prepared to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he entered his glory, since clearly it wasn’t going to be James and John. He allowed that he had always thought it was the two thieves. That sent me to my concordance to the Greek New Testament. When James and John ask Jesus to sit at his right and his left, they use the word aristeros for left. Aristeros is a word of ill-omen in Greek, just as sinister is in Latin. The left hand was the hand you used, well, never mind (as Simon and Garfunkel said). When Jesus replies that to sit as his right and his left is for those for whom it has been prepared, he uses the word euonumos for left. Euonumos is a euphemism for left, and means exactly the opposite — it means “well named” or “good-omened.”

The word euonomos appears exactly twice in Mark’s Gospel: once here (10:40), and once at 15:27: “With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.” (NAB). When the centurion who stood by the cross saw how Jesus died, he said, “Truly this man was son of god.” Son of god was a title for the Emperor. Here, he sees Jesus in his glory, with those for whom it has been prepared sitting at his right and at his left.

Immediately following James’ and John’s request, and the teaching to the ten, Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus. He asks Bartimaeus exactly the same question he asks James and John (the vocabulary is identical, only the number of the pronoun and verb changes): “What do you wish me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “That I might see.” See what? Jesus in his glory, just like the centurion does, and James and John fail to do. Jesus enthroned in glory on the cross flanked by a couple of murderers is not exactly how I imagine the Kingdom of God.

This insight forces us to question where we look for God’s glory. For Mark’s community, it might be reassuring to know that, as they faced martyrdom, they could be assured that places of glory were reserved for those facing a criminal death. What does it mean for us? Jesus redeems even those convicted of capital crimes?

The nations look on the one whom they have pierced in the Isaianic Servant Song, and are appalled. The are converted from the violence they have perpetrated on the servant. The centurion looks on Jesus and is converted from the violence he has perpetrated. If only . . .

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