Blog / Book of the Month / Who Sits Where? / Mark 10:35–45 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 17th 2024 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Who Sits Where? / Mark 10:35–45 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 17th 2024 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Who Sits Where? / Mark 10:35–45 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 17th 2024 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 17th 2024: Season of Lent / Mark 10:32-45 "Who Sits Where?"

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, He began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”

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.” 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.” 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 considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones 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 even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Few people will turn down the opportunity to be bumped from economy to first class when flying. Or when renting a car, you’d hardly complain if the rental lot said, ‘oh we don’t have the economy two door compact you asked for but we can give you - at the same economy price - an upgrade to a luxury four door model … those are the only ones we have on the lot right now.’ People generally like a chance at having the best of the best and we all like to think we know what the best of the best is.

When it comes to our Gospel Reading today it looks like the rest of Jesus’ disciples began to be offended with James and John when they thought that Saint James and Saint John were angling to get the best spots next to Jesus, to sit at His right and at His left, that these brothers would end up getting an upgrade compared to the rest of them - some kind of special status. Maybe even the seat that they themselves deserved to have had they only thought to ask Jesus first! You know, first come first served. And from the sounds of it perhaps James and John were fishing for some kind of special treatment … but at that time they didn’t seem know what they were truly asking for ... Jesus on the other hand did know.

We often don’t know what we are asking for when we ask. For the Christian we make our requests of God in our prayers and we know that we, as Children of God, are free and encouraged to ask for whatever we think we need in this life in our daily bread;[1] in fact knowing that God wants us to ask and that He promises to hear our prayers, “certainly ought to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight.”[2] In the Lord’s Prayer we, of course, likewise pray that God the Father’s “will be done” and in such a prayer we acknowledge that our will and God’s will might not be in perfect alignment and that “the good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayers.”[3] Saint James and John were taught this same prayer by our Lord. So, keeping this all in mind we seek to have a humble heart as we make our requests of God, trusting that He truly knows best what we need in this life. 

Consider Saint James and Saint John and their request of Jesus: by this point, along with the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus had already been teaching James and John and all His disciples about the true nature humility so you’d think these brothers wouldn’t even be tempted into asking for what they were asking. Then again we all know that “the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak,”[4] so a request that brings imagined earthly fame and prestige to a couple of blue-collar fishermen may have certainly been tempting. To get a better picture of what Jesus had already been teaching them along the way let’s think back then to a lesson Jesus had taught His disciples before Saint James and Saint John came with their request.

Saint Luke in his Gospel tells us how it was that on “one Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, [the Pharisees] were watching Him carefully … Now [at the supper Jesus] told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”[5]

Think now about our dear Saint James and Saint John and their request of Jesus, ‘might they have considered, might they have thought, that there may already be a seating plan worked out for the day that Jesus would come into His glory? A seating plan where the two of them already had a seat prepared for them, just not the one they were asking for?’ Patience here would be the better part of valour; if they were to be seated on Jesus’ left and right then they simply needed to wait to be called up to the higher place, if not those seats would simply be for someone else and they would need to be ok with that. Anyone who has agonized over a seating plan for a wedding reception will know that some thought goes into these things. And anyone who has walked up to the seating plan chart looking for where they are assigned to sit will know that it doesn’t always turn out they way you expect or to your liking in the moment. Therefore when we think of where we are to be seating in the kingdom of God we need first to be glad that we have a seat at the table. For Saint James and Saint John they seem not to have completely understood what ‘the day Jesus would come into His glory’ meant. If they were looking to a time beyond Jesus’ resurrection to some heavenly throne they were overlooking the earthly throne of Jesus’ cross and passion. If they were somehow looking to His crucifixion, which is unlikely, they would still be making a presumptuous and bold request.   

Jesus was not ascending to some enthronement of earthly glory Jesus was about to take the lowest place at the Passover Feast, a seat set aside for a criminal not a King. Here I’ll let Saint Mark explain: “Now at the feast [Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea] used to release for [the Jewish people] one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” for he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered [Jesus] up [for crucifixion]. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify Him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has He done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify Him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered [Jesus] to be crucified.”[6] 

The name Barabbas means, “son of the father” so Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, who is the eternal and beloved Son of God the Father took the “son of the father” Barabbas’ seat. This is a reversal of fortunes. In a stroke of undeserved mercy the innocent Jesus went to where the murderous Barabbas was sentenced to go, “a murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay.”[7] The wood of the cross Jesus was nailed to belonged first to Barabbas. As Jesus was lifted up in glory the seats next to Him went not to Saint James and Saint John as they’d requested but to the ones for whom God’s Seating plan hand preordained. As followers and disciples of Jesus they could as easily have been put in those two painful and deadly seats as much as any of the twelve could have been had they been rounded with Jesus but those seats were not for them. The Lord had other work for them to do before they were called to sit down in such seats. Remember what Jesus said to James and John, “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.” The opportunity to share in the suffering for their faith in Christ, the opportunity for them to experience persecution and death sentences would come in time but it would not happen on Good Friday for the two of them. Saint James would face the seat of martyrdom and Saint John[8] the seat of exile on the Island of Patmos.[9] By the standards of earthly glory these were not the glorious seats they thought they were asking for but in the eyes of the Father these where the seats of heavenly glory prepared for them.      

Under normal circumstances we don’t like to find someone in our seat when we expect to sit in that our self. We don’t like to be bumped out of our seat or to have taken from us what we expect to receive. When this happens we see it as unfair. And truth be told —like we saw with Barabbas—mercy is unfair, in mercy you don’t receive what you have earned or deserved, in mercy you don’t get what’s coming to you, in mercy you receive something better. James and John didn’t receive what they thought they earned or deserved by being ‘faithful’ disciples of Jesus, they didn’t receive what they asked for. In Christ Jesus they received mercy that day and an opportunity to share with thanksgiving the love of God to a world in need of mercy, a world in need of forgiveness. When you look now at the crucifixion and you’ll find Jesus not just in Barabbas’ seat, for Barabbas’ seat is truly your seat; when you look now at the crucifixion you’ll find Jesus in your seat and the risen Lord Jesus now in His mercy gives you His seat of honour in heaven. For Jesus who took the lowest seat, in His resurrection, in His ascension becomes the one to whom God the Father says ‘move up higher.’ And now that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father you have the promise that no matter where you sit today on The Last Day Jesus will say to you ‘Friend, move up higher.’ We like Saint James and Saint John are called to be patience as we live out our days here in this life.       

So, when you reflect on your life and on the way your prayers have been answered with the “yes” or “not yet,” or with the firm “no” of the Lord can you see the wisdom and will of God at work? Are you growing to understand that not every request is granted the way we ask because not every request we make is aligned with the will of God. If the one thief—that one criminal on the cross—that was seated next to Jesus had had his spot taken away by Saint James or Saint John he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to call out to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Nor would he have had the chance, if James or John had taken his place, to have heard the sweet words of the Gospel from the lips of the dying Lord Jesus, when Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”[10] And these words, these precious Gospel Words, would not then have been passed down to you to hear with your ears of faith by Saint John who was witness to this exchange, who heard them for himself, had that seat been taken from the one for whom it was truly appointed and prepared.

‘Dear Lord, You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; provide in us all hearts appreciative of the seat we have been given to sit in and a desire to serve others as You, in Christ Jesus, have served us and continue to serve us in Your perfect love and mercy ... through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Psalm 50:15, Matthew 7:7-8
[2] Large Catechism, Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions Reader’s Pocket Edition, Concordia Publishing House 2005, pg 582.
[3] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, Concordia Publishing House 2017, pg 20.
[4] Matthew 26:41
[5] Luke 14:1, 7-11
[6] Mark 15:6–15
[7] Staza 5, My Song is Love Unknown, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Hymn 430.
[8] Acts 12:1–2, “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword.”
[9] Revelation 1:9, “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.”
[10] Luke 23:42–43

Photo Credit: Three Chairs (modified) from pxhere