They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and 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 handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward 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 is it 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.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then 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.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’As is often the case in the Gospels, the disciples seem to be on a different page from Jesus, or to use another metaphor, James and John are following a different musical score than that of Christ. Jesus talks with his disciples about his imminent sacrifice on the cross, but all James and John seem to be able to think of is ruling and reigning with Jesus in a very this-worldly fashion. James and John seem to envision discipleship as a life of power and authority, but Jesus envisions discipleship as a life of service.
I wonder: which page are we on? Which musical score are we trying to follow?
The one thing that stands out to me the most in this passage is Jesus' question: can you drink the cup that I am about to drink? Amazingly, James and John answer "yes" without a clue about what they are saying.
Henri Nouwen offers the following application from this story to our lives today....
"Can we drink the cup?" is the most challenging and radical question we can ask ourselves. The cup is the cup of life, full of sorrows and joys. Can we hold our cups and claim them as our own? Can we lift our cups to offer blessings to others, and can we drink our cups to the bottom as cups that bring us salvation?
Keeping this question alive in us is one of the most demanding spiritual exercises we can practice.
We all must hold the cups of our lives. As we grow older and become more fully aware of the many sorrows of life--personal failures, family conflicts, disappointments in work and social life, and the many pains surrounding us on the national and international scene--everything within and around us conspires to make us ignore, avoid, suppress, or simply deny these sorrows. "Look at the sunny side of life and make the best of it," we say to ourselves and hear others say to us. But when we want to drink the cups of our lives we need first to hold them, to fully acknowledge what we are living, trusting that by not avoiding but befriending our sorrows we will discover the true joy we are looking for right in the midst of our sorrows.
When we hold firm our cups of life, fully acknowledging their sorrows and joys, we will also be able to lift our cups in human solidarity. Lifting our cups means that we are not ashamed of what we are living, and this gesture encourages others to befriend their truth as we are trying to befriend ours. By lifting our cups and saying to one another, "To life" or "To your health," we proclaim that we are willing to look truthfully at our lives together. Thus, we can become a community of people encouraging one another to drink fully the cups that have been given to us in the conviction that they will lead us to true fulfilment.
After firmly holding the cups of our lives and lifting them up as signs of hope for others, we have to drink them. Drinking our cups means fully appropriating and internalizing what each of us has acknowledged as our life, with all its unique sorrows and joys.
How do we drink our cups? We drink them as we listen in silence to the truth of our lives, as we speak in trust with friends about ways we want to grow, and as we act in deeds of service. Drinking our cups is following freely and courageously God's call and staying faithfully on the path that is ours. Thus, our life cups become the cups of salvation. When we have emptied them to the bottom, God will fill them with "water" for eternal life.
Emptiness and fullness at first seem complete opposites. But in the spiritual life they are not. In the spiritual life we find the fulfilment of our deepest desires by becoming empty for God.
We must empty the cups of our lives completely to be able to receive the fulness of life from God. Jesus lived this on the cross. The moment of complete emptiness and complete fullness became the same. When he had given all away to his Abba, his dear Father, he cried out, "It is fulfilled" (John 19:30). He who was lifted up on the cross was also lifted into the resurrection. He who had emptied and humbled himself was raised up and "given the name above all other names" (see Philippians 2:7-9). Let us keep listening to Jesus' question: "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" (Bread for the Journey)