The Ottoman Tales IX: Seated at the Right Hand

This continues a series inspired (somewhat) by Noel Barber’s The Sultans.  The previous instalment is here.

As I’ve noted earlier, the Ottoman Empire’s lurch towards representative government was one of fits and starts, mostly fits.  The first Ottoman parliament opened in March 1877, in (of all places) the Sultan’s own Dolmabache Palace (soon to be abandoned by Abdul Hamid for the labyrinthine Yilditz one).  Representatives came from all over the empire, some in sheepskins.  The MP’s “in the know” wanted to sit at the Sultan’s right hand, because they believed that this was the side of power.

Many centuries before, another group of budding Middle Eastern careerists had the same idea, only they wanted to cover both positions:

James and John, the two sons of Zebediah, went to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Grant us this,” they answered, “to sit, one on your right, and the other on your left, when you come in glory.” “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup that I am to drink? or receive the baptism that I am to receive?” “Yes,” they answered, “we can.” “You shall indeed drink the cup that I am to drink,” Jesus said, “and receive the baptism that I am to receive, But as to a seat at my right or at my left–that is not mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:35-40 TCNT)

Our Lord used their cultural importunity to make an important point about leadership:

On hearing of this, the ten others were at first very indignant about James and John. But Jesus called the ten to him, and said: “Those who are regarded as ruling among the Gentiles lord it over them, as you know, and their great men oppress them. But among you it is not so. No, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, And whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all; For even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45 TCNT)

It is doubtful that few if any of the representatives gathered at the Dolmabache Palace–and many other such gatherings before or since–had servant leadership in mind.

And as far as being at God the Father’s right hand, the place of authority, and how he got there:

Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 TCNT)

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