The Cup He Drinks Is Suffering

User’s Guide to Sunday, Oct. 21

(photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, Oct. 21, is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45.

Last week’s Gospel reading ended with Jesus telling his disciples that those who have left all behind to follow him can be assured of an inheritance “a hundred times more in this present age.”

This week, we find that James and John have been considering his words with great interest — great personal interest. They find a moment alone with Jesus to make a related request that seems unusually bold: “Grant that, in your glory, we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”

Clearly their idea of what kind of kingdom Jesus come to establish is still limited. He asks them if they can drink the cup he will drink and be baptized into his baptism — a reference to his suffering and death. They had already forgotten that the “hundred times more” included persecutions, as the Lord had said, and they did not yet understand that the promises “in this present age” were spiritual returns.

And so, confidently, yet still very much unclear as to what it will mean, they assure him that they can. Jesus prophesies that they will in fact share in his suffering: James will be the first apostle martyred, and John will share intimately in the suffering of Jesus at the foot of the cross and later be imprisoned on the island of Patmos.

Jesus then summons all the disciples, who are understandably resentful toward James and John, and expounds on the radical concept of servant leadership, which they had not grasped before (Mark 9:35). The greatest will be the servant of the rest, just as the Son of Man will be the first “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many,” which is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading: “Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.”

Jesus, rather than being a revolutionary in the political realm as they have expected, is instead revolutionizing their view of leadership and service. Jesus has come to serve and to obey his Father, to the point of the sacrifice of his very life. It is not for him to decide who will share his glory and how; even for that, he defers to the Father.

The key to this mystery, still shrouded even for his closest friends, has yet to be fully revealed. Eventually, in the light of the cross, James and John — along with the rest — will come to understand that the “cup” Jesus invites them to share to the dregs, the depths of his suffering, will bring them far closer to him than any earthly seating arrangement. It will be their trials and sufferings that will both glorify him and make them worthy of the kingdom, not any temporal triumph.

Even to us now, in full light of the cross, this is never an easy reality. But when we lean into our crosses and suffer our hurts and humiliations with grace and trust, then we have found the deepest and truest way to sit closest to him. He has traded a throne for a cross. If we want to be near him, we will find him in our own crosses and discover that he has drawn nearer to us than we can imagine.

Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, spirituality and the sacred everday

at and

contributes regularly to and  She is editor of and coordinates adult faith

formation at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.