Who Can Drink From This Cup?

Palm/Passion Sunday is approaching.  Just two weeks from now, we will remember people waving palms, crying, “Hosanna,” which means save us! And soon after Jesus will have His Last Supper with the disciples and be taken away by the Romans and the Chief Priests. Jesus predicts this to the disciples for the third time in Mark 10: 32-34 when He tells them that the Romans are going to kill me in a way that they have perfected through practice to cause the maximum possible amount of shame and pain for the longest possible time.  They refuse to hear it!

After traveling all this time with Jesus and seeing His power, they want a piece of the messianic action and some prime real estate on either side of Jesus’ throne in glory. Instead of a cup of suffering, they probably had in mind some mighty fine wine. They absolutely reject the idea of suffering and death. No way! After all, kings and rulers reign in glory, are held in honor, and wield great power. They’ve been faithful followers; therefore, shouldn’t they be entitled to bask in some of the glory, too?

And so James and John boldly ask, even after Jesus has told them of His torture and death: We want you to do for us whatever we ask. What an opening line! And Jesus, patient as ever, goes along with it: What do you want me to do for you? How about choosing us to sit at your right and left in your glory? Sure, we know there will be some hassle, some suffering, some struggle, but then the glory. It seems that James and John were thinking about it like a high school athlete considers the daily training regimen for the team. They didn’t get the suffering part, only the part in the end of holding high the victory trophy.

Jesus with all His compassion and love responds: You don’t know what you are asking. And then He uses two familiar analogies for his suffering, a cup and a baptism. Those who have been immersed know baptism well.  When we go into the water, we are dying to our sin and old selves. When we come back up, our sins are washed away.

The Greek for “cup” is pottery.  There are three cups in Mark's Gospel! The first is when Jesus says the one giving a glass of cold water will not lose their reward (9:41). The second is this passage. The third is the Communion cup. The cup of cold water, the cup of suffering and the cup of the blood of the Lamb. James and John had no idea what was in their cup.

The other disciples are indignant that the Zebedee brothers are vying for the best seats in the kingdom, and tension mounts. How did Jesus, speaking of His suffering, lead to a power struggle amongst the disciples?

And once again, Jesus reminds His disciples of real power, life together and the reign of God. Verses 42-45 Jesus calls them together: You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Remember in Jesus’ times, the idea of being a servant leader was countercultural. This is certainly not the kind of leadership that would send their oppressors packing. Slaves were at the bottom of the social ladder. This make you uncomfortable? Jesus’ idea of power will always be the exact opposite of what the world values. This is the cup He is talking about! Unlike what Jesus teaches, secular rulers lord it over others; they exercise excessive authority. Jesus is talking about Rome. They are tyrants. Certainly this is not what James and John want.

Jesus is clear: Whoever might wish to become great must be your servant. Whoever would wish to become first must be "slave of all." To be clear, Jesus doesn't dispute the idea of greatness; He wants to see greatness acted out so long as it derives from serving others. The way to serve Jesus is by becoming the slaves of our fellow-servants and being willing to do literally anything, however costly, irksome, or undignified, in order to help others in the light of Jesus. This is what love means, as He, Himself, showed at the Last Supper when he played the slave's part and washed the disciples' feet … and shared the cup of salvation, while accepting the cup of suffering.

Service, not power; self-giving, not self-seeking, is the mark of true leadership in the church. This means that the true leaders of the church are often the most unheralded and seemingly insignificant folks. They are busy serving others rather than vying for position. Jesus takes the form of a slave himself and was obedient to the point of death on the cross (Philippians 2.6-8).
Only the Holy Spirit can create in us the kind of love toward our Savior that will overflow in imaginative sympathy and practical helpfulness towards his people. Unless the spirit is training us in love, we are in dire danger to drink of the cup of self-centered and loveless-ness.
As we move closer and closer to the 24 hours leading to Jesus’ burial, may we examine our hearts, examine our ways, examine how we serve others and as we drink from the cup of Joy or the cup of suffering allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct our path closer to the love of Jesus.
Blessed Lenten Season!

I sure love being your pastor…Alexis

1 Comment

Mary Ann Cerone1thank you - March 10th, 2021 at 8:59pm

Thank you Pastor for all your thoughts on Who can drink from this cup.