Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)

It’s interesting that Jesus does not directly criticize James and John when they ask to sit at his side in glory. Instead he challenges them: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” He contrasts their lofty ambitions with his humility: zeal for glory is set against God’s call to humble service.

Jesus’ humility was born of his love for the Father and for the world. Because he loves, Jesus is willing to endure anything – even death – in order to save the human race. This kind of humility releases God’s love to the world and advances the kingdom of God. It’s this kind of humility we heard Jesus teaching his followers: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be a slave to all.”

It’s obvious that Jesus is not trying to gather a bunch of shrinking violets. That’s not the kind of humility he’s looking for in his disciples. He wants a people like himself who will shoulder the Father’s sadness over the suffering in the world. He is looking for a people who will work with him so that the world will be free of sin.

Rather than rebuking the misdirected ambition of James and John, Jesus channels it into an embrace of the Father’s will: “The cup that I drink of you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.”

Jesus is speaking to you and me, is challenging you and me. The challenge is not an easy one. It would be easy for us to become discouraged. What Jesus shows us through his life and suffering and death is that the cup of sacrifice is also one of intimacy with God. Every willing act of death to self for the sake of the kingdom brings us closer to Jesus.

The more fully we are willing to drink of this cup, the more fully we learn that Jesus never asks more of us than he empowers us to give. Jesus is always inviting us to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus is reminding us that he knows what our suffering is like, and we never have to suffer alone. He is telling us that our suffering can be a time of grace – for us and others.

Are we willing to drink of our cup, as Jesus drank of his? If we are willing, then let us approach Jesus where we will receive mercy and find grace to help us.