25 July 2011

"Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" (v. 22b)


This passage follows the third prediction by Jesus of his coming death and resurrection, each indicates the necessity of it but none indicate the reason. The reason is given at the end of today's reading (verse 28).

The request on behalf of James and John and/or by them seems both insensitive and inappropriate in the light of Jesus' predication of the manner of his death. The request to sit at the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom indicates a complete failure to grasp the nature of that kingdom and the community that Jesus is creating - a point emphasised by Jesus in his response to the anger shown by the other disciples to James and John's request. Positions of honour, and lording it over others, may be the natural way of the world but it is not the way of the kingdom and community Jesus creates. The way of that kingdom and community is marked by sacrificial self-giving service.

Within the passage is the question Jesus poses "Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" The reference to drinking the cup is to accept one's God-appointed death but that is not linked to rewards and places of honour, it is about obedience.

The final verse needs some comment. "To give his life a ransom for many" could imply a limited atonement, for many but not for all, but that is to misinterpret the underlying linguistic idiom. As 1 Timothy 2:5-6 picks up the same linguistic idiom and renders it "a ransom for all". The metaphor of a ransom shouldn't lead is into pressing the image too far so as to ask to whom is the ransom paid, Satan or God? What it expresses is the deep Christian experience that in and through Jesus we have been set free, redeemed, and there is a mystery as to the exact mechanics of that.

To Ponder

How easily do you and the Church fall into the trap of thinking and responding in terms of honour, position and prestige?

What does it mean for you to be set free to be a kingdom community characterised by sacrificial self-giving service?

What do you think such a community would look and feel like? To what extent are you able to drink the cup involved in being part of such a kingdom community?

Bible notes author: The Revd Peter Barber

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