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Emmitsburg, MD. 21727
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Can You Really Drink the Cup?
 Or Set High the Bar

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

The young, motley crew of men and women disciples of Jesus, high in their enthusiasm and love of him, continue the journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will meet his death. Idealistic and devoted as they are, they still don't get the message of Jesus. Ambitious as all get out, they have no idea about what being a disciple of Jesus will cost them, about what they will be in for. They think that Jesus is going to usher in a new social order, a kingdom and they will be "top dogs", "kings of the hill."

Zebedee's sons, James and John have now just just heard Jesus speak for the third time about being handed over, mocked, scourged and condemned to death. But-they were so clogged up with their own ideas that they try to turn these remarks on suffering somehow to their own advantage --they focus their attention on the reward they will gain if they endure such suffering. They imagine Jesus on a throne of glory and that they will be seated next to him on his right and left. The other disciples feel the same, but then James and John were quicker on the draw then the rest of them. They run up to Jesus: "Grant us the places of honor they cry." (Matthew, friends, in his Gospel version of the same incident softens Mark's description. Probably due to his own Jewish background, Matthew has the mother of James and John in the style of good Jewish mothers everywhere make the same request for her two boys.)

With eyes of love Jesus looked at his two young comrades. He may well have smiled or laughed at their misplaced enthusiasm, but he had to bring them down to earth. "Can you drink the cup that I will drink?" (Later in his prayer in the Gethsemane garden he will be beg God his Father to let the cup pass him by, if possible) Can you be baptized-that is plunge into the same bath of pain as I shall do. Can you face up to hatred, pain, and even death as I have to do? With all the confidence and delightful boldness of youth they respond "We can." We wonder, did James and John really know what Jesus is saying? Jesus is really telling them that without a cross, there is no crown.

The other disciples by this time were probably beginning to give James and John a hard time in their efforts to be "top dog". Jesus gathers them around them and takes them and us a step deeper: "Don't focus on the pay-off. The heavenly reward -"sitting on my right or left"-is not mine to give. That cannot be your motive for following me." Please, don't focus on becoming a "great one." Focus, instead on becoming a "servant". How countercultural can you get?

The enthusiasm and eagerness of these young disciples make us think about our own commitments in living as spouses and parents, as priests or professed religious or as single persons living lives of dedication to the Lord. Friends, at the time we made our own commitments did we really know what they would cost us? Even if we did somehow realize what the cost would be, did we focus only on the payoff or reward? Perhaps we thought that the payoff or reward would somehow make it all worthwhile. Have we moved beyond that way of thinking?

Jesus encourages us to focus on the counter-cultural idea of being servants. Put more into life that you take out of it. In public life, try to elect people who are not just looking for power and influence, but for the chance to serve. Popes sign their documents: "Servant of the servants of God." In your family life, friends, recall how your parents put their own happiness on the back burner as they set your happiness before their own and backed it up with sacrifice. They denied themselves of extra and sometimes necessary comforts for your sake. Jesus himself supremely backs up his advice with his own example: "I took your skin, your flesh, not to be served but to serve others and even to die for them."

May the example of being a servant continue to inspire you and me. William Barclay, the great Scottish Presbyterian commentator on Scripture -and a teacher at Glascow sets the bar high and writes close to the bone-our bone:

"God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live carefully always thinking first of our own ease, comfort, security, if our sole aim is to make life as long and trouble-free as possible, if we make no effort except for ourselves, we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we forget health and time and wealth and comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus and for those for whom Jesus died- (all humans) -we are winning life all the time."

Friends, may you and I with the help of the Lord's grace-filled love for us struggle to set high the bar.


Read other homilies by Father Paul