Stephen and James,
It would seem that Jesus counters the mother's request on behalf of her
sons by reminding her of his suffering which must precede his
glorification <Can you drink the cup I am going to drink, v.22>. In
other words if they are going to be identified with Jesus in his glory
they must identify with him in his suffering. They respond by affirming
their willingness to participate with Jesus by enduring a similar fate
as Jesus v.22. Although it is doubtful the full ramifications of the
response was understood by them, Jesus concedes that ultimately they
will suffer a similar fate v.23. But what is it that was not within his
authority to grant? Certainly in v.23 the idiom <right and left> refers
to places of honor. I see no indication in Jesus' response that he
found the request to be seated on Jesus' <right and left> as an
ironical foreshadowing of events at Calvary. His words <You don't know
what you are asking> are intended to remind them that such a request had
failed to take seriously the suffering that must precede glorification.
This is brought out by jesus' quiry of them <Can you drink the cup I am
going to drink>. Does the reference to sitting on Jesus' <left and right>
in v.23 refer to places of honor? If so, it seems we have a clear
indication of how Jesus understood the mother's request.
Nevertheless, Stephen's original question about the <left> being a
place of honor is a good one. Are there any classical references to
seating positions, especially the <left>, as a place of honor? Be that
as it may, it seems in Mt 20 the idiom is used as places of honor.
Thanks for your observations.
Kentucky Christian College