Some people live their lives with a sense of dread. The world they inhabit feels unpredictable and unsafe. Even on sunny days, they scan the horizon for storm clouds.
The ominous tone in today’s gospel makes this passage their kind of passage: “Can you drink the cup of suffering of which I am to drink?”
Yet, this passage is not for worriers only, it is necessary instruction for all of us, including optimists. Note the positive set-up: James and John, like employees secure in their job status, approach the boss and mention the possibility of promotion. What happens?
Jesus gives the corporate/ecclesial ladder a good shake.
It’s a pattern we’ve come to expect from him:
Peter stuns his co-workers with sharp insight, “Lord, you are the Messiah!” Moments later he’s put in his place.
The apostles marvel at the beauty of the Temple, Jesus informs them: “Not one stone will not be left atop another.”
The glory of Christ’s Transfiguration is following by a terse reminder of his approaching crucifixion
“Can you drink of the cup of suffering?”
In an article about the path to virtue, Fr. Stephen Freeman writes, “The wisdom of both the Stoics and the Christian fathers is that only a willingness to endure pain, at some level, is able to nurture virtue. We are not called to love suffering, but to flee suffering can be among the worst choices in life.”
In other words, the life of discipleship involves suffering. It’s inevitable.
“Unless you shoulder the cross and walk in my footsteps, you cannot be my disciple.”
“Sell what you have and give the proceeds to the poor.”
“The first shall be last, the last shall be first.”
The words give us pause, at least until we put them into the context of love. In the broader context of sacrificial love, these words—hard as stone—turn into foundations of rock. For, indeed, what is love without the courage and willingness to accept the potential—and inevitable—experience of suffering?
The parent at the bedside of a sick child.
The soldier shielding a comrade in the heat of battle.
The laborer with bills to pay and mouths to feed.
Confrontation with authorities about matters of justice.
Reconciliation between friends at a time of hurt.
Discipleship entails courage and courage requires readiness to sacrifice.
Why? Because love without suffering is love without substance.
“Will you drink of this cup?” asks the Lord. In other words, “Will you love me?
Will you love me, as I love you?”