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Sharing a cup. It can mean getting together for a coffee or tea, a cup that further community and sharing. It can mean sharing life saving water that satiates a thrust. It can be the enslaving meeting for a drink that could further an addiction. But here in today’s passage the cup that Jesus offers is metaphorical. Throughout the First Testament the image of the cup is one of participation. It’s literarily used at times to invoke the pouring out of God’s frustration and wrath, such as the pouring out of a drink gone bad. It invokes the pouring out of a drink sacrifice upon an altar. It’s also the sharing of a cup that involves the drinker as an active participant in a religious ritual, a covenant-making vow, or a group identity. Some examples include: Psalm 16, 23, 116; Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 25:15; Zechariah 12:2; 14:10)
In today’s gospel selection the brothers, James and John, seem are vying for a special place, one of honor, possibly hoping to beat out the other 10 disciples for the best spots by RSVPing first. But they are seemingly ignorant, naive, or unconnected to what Jesus has just said about the suffering, loss, pain and defeat that the Son of Man will receive and must endure. We look back and see their blatant naiveté. Yet their response is natural, deeply human; probably one we would repeat if given the chance. The title “Son of Man” first appears in the First Testament in the book of Daniel 7:13, where it’s used to designate the special human representative of God. The Ancient of Days, coming victoriously enthroned upon the clouds, surrounded by a celestial army gives all power to one like a Son of Man. For the disciples, this was a title of honor, victory, indefatigable glory and pride. They are unable to see Jesus fully, impotent to hear what he is saying, even thought hey have eyes to see and ears with which to hear. They don’t see Bartimaeus as Jesus does. For them he is an impediment, an unwanted riffraff in the way. For Jesus is a son of Adam and Eve, a child of God every bit worthy of mercy as anyone else. Sharing in the cup of Christ is thus not only participating in suffering and defeat, but also seeing each other, the world, and ourselves as Christ does.
Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated while serving communion in a mass on March 24, 1980. He had embraced the cup of Christ, preaching, proclaiming and living with passion the call to mercy for all, solidarity with the poor and an activist living out of the gospel principles of liberation theology. In his final sermon, given the previous day, he wrote auspiciously of how God calls us to be present participants in the divine passion:
“Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God;
we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do;
we are only as intelligent as God would have us be. ”
It’s what the disciples were unable to see and the vocation to which we are invited to embrace in faith.
Questions for Going Deeper: