Victor Borge used to hold out his wrist watch and say, “You like this watch? My father gave it to me on his deathbed. (Then a perfectly timed pause…) Twenty five bucks!” Hilarious, because who would try to weasel money from his son when he is just about to die? Just as incomprehensible to us is the question James and John asked Jesus after He told them He was just about to die. No, wait a minute… they didn’t ask Him, they got their Mother to do it! Probably thought she could manipulate Jesus better…
” Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
Are you kidding me? Jesus had just told them He would be flogged and crucified and they are angling for the best seats? It doesn’t make sense. As Jesus points out, they really didn’t understand what He had just told them. They must have thought He was using symbolic terms when He said those things about being tortured and killed. Jesus doesn’t criticize them for asking, but turns their insensitivity and ambition into an important lesson:
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”” (Matthew 20:22-23)
Jesus is going to be King, He is going to rule over a “Kingdom.” But His path to that position for Him leads through the “cup” of suffering and sacrifice. And absolute submission to the will of His Father. Those who follow Jesus must understand that path and be prepared for that dynamic. It’s not that all Christians will be crucified, or even all of the apostles (although most of them were tortured to death). It is that following Jesus flips the idea of what it means to be influential.
It’s not prestige and privilege, it’s humility and service. That is the “cup,” the real Holy Grail of Jesus. It is ironic how many stories have been written about how people, obsessed by greed, expended such effort to find the Holy Grail. But the real “cup” of Jesus is right here to be taken up by anyone. That is, anyone who first turns away from his own greed and ambition.
Chew on that… More to come…