Lent: To Drink from the Cup

March 16, 2022
Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we learn a lesson in humble leadership, thanks once again to “Mrs. Zebedee”.

Mk 10_38 cup

Our Gospel recounts the story of the mother of James and John interceding for her sons with Jesus. Like many overprotective mothers, she intervenes even into their adult lives. She wants to make sure they get the best deal for their investment with Jesus.

Listen, I understand and love her! I would be the same way with my kids if I had any. I often say it’s best I had none because “Overprotective Me” would have had to shadow them to school, dances, playgrounds etc. until they were about 35 years old!

But the point of this Gospel story isn’t Mrs. Zebedee’s overprotectiveness.  It has little to do with Mrs. Zebedee at all.

The point is that “Mrs. Zebedee” (like many of us) has missed the whole POINT. The Gospel story is about US and the integrity of our choice to live a life in the pattern of Jesus.

Christ’s disciples have decided to follow a man who says things like this:

  • The last shall be first and the first, last.
  • Unless you lay down your life, you cannot follow me.
  • Whoever takes the lowly position of a child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The seats at Christ’s right and left, which Mrs. Zebedee requests for her sons, will bring them rewards only through humility and sacrificial service.

Here’s the way a 14th century artist imagined the Zebedee family. (Dad looks happy!)

sons of zebedee
Mary Salome and Zebedee with their Sons James the Greater and John the Evangelist
(c.1511) by Hans von Kulmbach, Saint Louis Art Museum

Jesus is gentle with “Mrs. Zebedee”. He understands how hard it is for any of us to comprehend the hidden glory of a deeply Christian life. We are surrounded by a world that screams the opposite to us:

  • Me first!
  • Stand your ground!
  • Good guys finish last!

So Jesus turns to James and John (and to us). One can imagine the bemused look on Christ’s face. He knows the hearts of his disciples. He knows they have already given themselves to him. So he asks them for a confession of faith, “Can you drink the cup that I will drink?”

The meeting of Christ with Zebedee’s wife and sons by Paolo Veronese

Their humble, faith-filled answer no doubt stuns their mother. She is left in wonder at the holy men her sons have become. Perhaps it is the beginning of her own deep conversion to Christ.

As we pray with this passage,
where do we find ourselves in this scene?
How immediate, sincere, and complete
is our response to Jesus’ question:
“Can you drink the cup….?”

Prose: by Henri J.M. Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?

Drinking the cup that Jesus drank
is living a life in and with the spirit of Jesus,
which is the spirit of unconditional love.
The intimacy between Jesus and Abba, his Father,
is an intimacy of complete trust,
in which there are no power games,
no mutually agreed upon promises,
no advance guarantees.
It is only love
—pure, unrestrained, and unlimited love.
Completely open, completely free.
That intimacy gave Jesus the strength to drink his cup.
That same intimacy Jesus wants to give us
so that we can drink ours.

Music: The More I Seek You – Kari Jobe

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