Friday, March 17, 2006

Shall I Not Drink the Cup?

When Peter suddenly sliced off the unsuspecting ear of Malchus the slave in Gethsemane, Jesus reproached him: “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). What is this “cup” that the Father had given Jesus? We know it refers to his passion, but why a cup?

This image has been used frequently in Scripture, usually referring in some way to one’s allotted portion or destiny, either for weal or for woe. Thus we find a scorching wind as the allotted cup of the wicked, and the Lord himself as the portion and cup of the righteous. There’s a cup of salvation and a cup of wrath, a cup of consolation and a cup of judgment. We find a cup of blessing and a cup of dismay, a cup of the Lord and a cup of demons. The most precious cup is that of the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ.

Jesus’ allotted cup was his passion and death (we often hear of “tasting” death in the Scriptures), and ultimately his resurrection. The first taste of this cup was that of suffering, and this image turns up several times in the Gospels. When James and John wanted the places of honor in the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus asked them: “Can you drink the cup I shall drink?” Having no idea what He was talking about, they said they could. Then He prophesied that indeed they would, but it would not come to pass until they had been filled with the Holy Spirit. Before that time, they would not have the courage to suffer with or for Him.

The cup Jesus had to drink was a cup no one else could, except as a small share in his. For Jesus had to drink the cup of the suffering and sin of all mankind, and then pour out his own blood on the Cross. The cup of God’s wrath that the prophets declared was reserved for the wicked was deferred, for now it was to be given to the sinless Lamb. “All the wicked must drain it,” said the psalmist, to the full measure of their sins. So horrifying was this cup that it even daunted the Son of God for a brief moment in the garden. “Take this cup from me!” He cried to his Father in agony. But deeper than his fear of torture and his loathing of sin was his love and obedience toward his Father. So He chose to do his will. He Himself would drink the cup that was justly reserved for sinners. By the time Judas and the mob had apprehended Jesus, his courage was restored. When Peter tried to spare Him the cup with brandished sword, Jesus responded that He was indeed going to drink it.

We tend to choose the consoling cups, the peace and the blessing. We readily drink from the Eucharistic chalice, the sweet Wine of divine love and grace. But we tend to flee from the cup of suffering, as the disciples deserted their Master in the garden. We have to realize, though, that life brings a mixed cup for us to drink, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet. But since it is from the hand of the Father, we must drink it all, for it is our allotted portion. Sometimes it is our just punishment; sometimes it is an unexpected blessing. But let us go forth with steadfastness and trust, accepting the cup that the Father gives us in the various times and circumstances of our lives.

Whether it is unto suffering or joy, it is still the cup of salvation, for God desires the salvation of all, and He works all things toward that end. Our willingness to accept what the Lord sends or permits will strengthen our character and increase our courage and devotion. So take up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. In the end, we’ll see how both the bitter and the sweet will be transformed into one great cup of blessing at the eternal banquet in the heavenly kingdom.