Their request bobbed upon the surface. James and John, the sons of thunder, each wanted to sit on the right and left of Jesus when he was seated in his kingly position, but they didn't understand the full force of the conversation that they had started. Beneath the surface there was an invitation to experience the depths of God that would require faith, hope and love.
Mark 10:35-40 (NIV) 35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." 36"What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. 37They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." 38"You
don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I
drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" 39"We
can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I
drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."
I wonder, was Jesus holding a cup while this conversation was happening? As He swirled the contents of they cup, perhaps James and John thought, "sure, no problem, that's easy…in fact I'll have a sip right now!" But Jesus meant a different cup.
They also knew all about Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan river, and they too had experienced John's ministry…however, Jesus was talking about a completely different cup, and a wholly different baptism.
The cup was a cup of sacrifice, agony and selflessness predicated by Divine love and compassion.This cup would cost everything. This cup was a humble cup that didn't focus on position, status or power, but on love. This cup was bitter to the tongue, but had a sweet after-taste.
The baptism wasn't about water, but about the abiding presence and indwelling of the Trinity by the power and agency of the Holy Spirit. The only way a person can drink a selfless sacrificial cup is through the abiding presence in our hearts of the One who drank it first, Jesus. The Holy Spirit multiplies the resurrected and ascended Christ into every heart who trusts and believes that Jesus is the Christ by faith…this is the baptism of the Holy Spirit into the life and family of God.
It was true, they would drink sacrificial cups, giving their lives in the mission of their Lord, and they would be filled and baptized into the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost…but who sits to the right and the left of Jesus, well, that belongs to the Father and the Spirit.
When we share a drink together, when we share a cup together, there is so much more going on than meets the eye. To drink together is to enter into each others story. It is intimate, relational and beautiful. In Henry Nouwen's book "Can You Drink This Cup" he states:
"In whatever country or culture we find ourselves, having a drink together is a sign of friendship, intimacy, and peace. Being thirsty is often not the main reason to drink. We drink to "break the ice," to enter into a conversation, to show good intention, to express friendship and goodwill, to set the stage for a romantic moment, to be open, vulnerable, accessible. It is no surprise that people who are angry at us, or who come to accuse or harass us, won't accept a drink from us. They would rather say: "I will come straight to the point of my being here." Refusing a drink is avoiding intimacy." p. 80
Can you drink the cup? This is a choice that has been extended to us by the hands of grace. Yes, we can drink the cup, the question is -will we drink the cup? Refusing the drink is to avoid intimacy, accepting the drink expands the God-conversation.
In another very powerful way Jesus drank the bitter cup, so that we could drink the sweet cup of life. This reminds me that when life is hard, when it seems that the cup is beyond bitter, even then, there is the potential for sweetness if we allow Jesus to enter in.
I see this in the story of the bitter water at Marah in Exodus 15. As the Children of Israel crossed the Red Sea and began their journey, the first drinking spot the came to had water that was bitter (Marah means bitter). As the complained about the bad drinking water, God had a remedy:
"22 Then Moses led Israel
from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days
they traveled in the desert without finding water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. ) 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "What are we to drink?" 25
Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of
wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet."
When the drink was bitter, God showed Moses that there was a piece of wood that when added to the bad water source transformed it into sweet, good drinking water.
This is a picture of Calvary, of the Cross of Christ. Are you experiencing a bad drink, a bitter cup? Then, apply the wood of Jesus sacrifice, by accepting His sacrifice for you, and then even the bitterest of drinks have hope and light and life! Nothing is beyond the redemption of Christ's love.
Nouwen also says:
"We have to drink our cup slowly, tasting every mouthful-all the way to the bottom. Living a complete life is drinking our cup until it is empty, trusting that God will fill it with everlasting life." p. 93
The cup is a celebration of what it means to be human…to be fully alive…may you drink to abundance this Easter.