This morning I was reading the entry for May 9 in my Henri J. M. Nouwen book Bread for the Journey A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.
The cup of Life
When the mother of James ad John asks Jesus to give her sons a special place in his Kingdom, Jesus responds, “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).
“Can we drink the cup?” is the most challenging and radical question we an ask ourselves. The cup is the cup of life, full of sorrows and joys. Can we hold our cups and claim them as our own? Can we lift our cups to offer blessings to others, and can we drink our cups to the bottom as cups that bring us salvation?
Keeping this question alive in us is one of the most demanding spiritual exercises we can practice.
Naturally this got me thinking, asking myself the questions Fr. Nouwen posed in today’s passage.
I would like to think that yes, yes I can. That I do so on a daily basis. But given the actual choice of heartache and sorrow, pain and suffering… how many of us raise our hands and say “yes, please, I’d like some of that.” I don’t think very many of us. Jesus said it was not going to be easy–picking up one’s cross. The gate is narrow and those who pass through are few and far between.
I find it odd how so many non-believers think Christians to be weak, sappy, goodie too shoes, perpetually cheery in a phony sort of way, when the truth of the matter is that the Christian actually must be tough and hard, as we, the Christians, are tried in the fire–the fire of our faith.
When I was in college I had to take a metals class as part of my Art Ed. degree. We learned the basics of metlasmithing as well as jewelry design. We learned how to solder, weld and form various metals, as well as the various melting points of each metal. One process, when working with metal, is called annealing. This is a process to actually make metal stronger.
One would think that metal was already strong enough, but actually the more the metal is worked, bammed and hammered, it has less strength and durability—it’s very make-up or integrity is now at risk or compromised. In order to strengthen the metal, making it less brittle, it must be annealed—or heated to a certain temperature then slowly cooled. Hence the expression being tried by fire.
Our fire is this life. At best it is hard, at worst, we see the horror stories on the news. We find ourselves asking how can a loving God allow so much horrendous suffering, pain, evil to exist….those are hard questions. But God didn’t say “here’s the cup I’m offering you, it has death, murder, war, pain, rape, brutality, addictions, stealing, etc… filled to the brim. Would you like a sip?”
What He did say was/is “You will join me in paradise/ in heaven, because I love you. I love you so much that my Father, our Father, sent me to drink the cup you didn’t want to drink from. Be not afraid and follow me because I have already raised the cup and finished what it contained–you no longer have to drink it. But what you do have to do, if you agree to follow, is to continue to show love where there is none, peace where there is none, hope where there is none, grace where there is none, forgiveness where there is none, belief where there is none—this is your cup—you must do this because I am physically not here to do all of that, so I’m asking that you do that for me.”
The bad things will come, the evil is still here but so is the Victory, so is the Grace, so is the Hope, so is the Love. Life is not easy and sometimes it is just very hard and just very bad. But we have been given a promise, we already know the ending…and it’s a good ending. It’s just that the road to the ending is rocky and packed with thorns but it is also sprinkled with joy, happiness, and goodness as well. This is the cup we are to share along this road. The question is are we willing to share it. I hope I am.