I am slowly making a journey into Orthodoxy, with a small Antiochian Orthodox mission church here in Moses Lake. (Something I can do with my Arabic! Yay!) About this I will write more later.
But in today’s Orthodox lectionary (yeah, it’s not Palm Sunday for us), we have the following reading from Mark, the tenth chapter.
35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:35-37 ESV)
There is, of course, much more to this reading. In the preceding verses, Jesus tells his disciples what the whole point of going to Jerusalem is — to get handed over to the authorities, mocked and tortured and executed, and to rise three days later. In response to this, James and John can ask about glory, to sit next to Jesus on his right and his left side (“Δὸς ἡμῖν ἵνα εἷς σου ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξ ἀριστερῶν” or “εὐωνύμων σου” according to a variant reading) — the places of glory.
It’s a lot to ask for, and Jesus tells them they will indeed drink the cup and share in his baptism, but “to sit at my right hand or my left (ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἢ ἐξ εὐωνύμων) is not mine to grant, but it for those for whom it has been prepared.” And then he goes into a speech about gentiles lording it over others, and that those who are called are called to serve and not be heard.
But as I sat listening to the deacon speak about this, it occurred to me that there are, in fact, people who do sit at Jesus’ right and left hands in glory in Mark’s Gospel:
25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left (ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ ἕνα ἐξ εὐωνύμων αὐτοῦ). (Mark 15:25-27 ESV)
The thieves, who appear only here in Mark’s Gospel, with no speaking roles, sit on the right and his left. They have been appointed, and this is Christ’s glory, the cross, upon which he is executed. Thieves, who are silent in this account, who say nothing (though Mark reports they both reviled Jesus as they hung there at Golgotha with him), and who did not ask.
Perhaps, in this instance, being prepared to sit with Christ in his glory is to be condemned and unrepentant1, to fight the miserable fight and to torment the one dying with us. The sinless lamb has has come to take away the sin of thew world.
It is an odd glory we share, and an odd preparation, condemnation for our sins. This is not the glory that we, or John and James, were seeking. It is not the glory we wish for.
- It is the same in Matthew; in Luke, one robber repents, while John only mentions “two others, one on either side,” and they play no other meaningful role in John’s depiction of the crucifixion. ↩︎