Once again the disciples are concerned about being the greatest, although the “sons of Zebedee” (James and John) stoop to a new level here. They send mom. To be fair, maybe mom up and went of her own accord, but they did not stop her. When Jesus says, “are you able to drink the cup I am about to drink” (a “cup” which he has just described in verses 18 and 19), their response is a quick, “we are able”, which indicates that they certainly endorsed their mother’s question. So whether it was of her own accord or their prompting, James and John are glad she asked. Yes, there were helicopter parents even in first century Israel.
It’s a strange scene, and I wonder how their mom responded to this. We don’t get her reaction. I wonder if she was stopped in her tracks at the thought of her sons drinking from the same cup as Jesus. The cup of being handed over, condemned to death, mocked, flogged and crucified is nothing a mother would ever wish for her children. Yes, he also said, “yet on the third day he will be raised”, but I would be willing to bet that mom’s ears stopped at words like “death”, “”mocked”, “flogged” and “crucified”. I have a hunch she didn’t hear “raised”, and I don’t know that I would either.
This “being like Jesus” thing is not a call to fame, fortune, success, and power. It is not a call to be “great”. It is a call to servanthood, sacrifice, and humility. To be like Jesus, to go where he goes and do what he does, is to do the risky, hard work of empowering the powerless, embracing the outcast, including the disenfranchised and serving the servant. It is the hard work of dismantling oppressive systems. And such a life is not one usually celebrated by those with power. It is a threat to them, and because this risky for us.
And so it does not lead to fame, fortune, success, and power but it leads to its opposites. This is what led Christ to the cross. Many atonement theories will argue that the cross was God’s plan for salvation, but, though that may be, we must remember that the “powers that be” did not put him there so that their sins would be forgiven. They put him there because he upset their power and fortune. We have learned much in that last 2,000 years, and so we can rest knowing that, in most countries anyway, following Jesus will likely not cost us our lives, but it may cost us our livelihood.
The call to follow Christ is a call to hard stuff… but it’s also the good stuff. It is hard but it is good, and it is right, and to it, we must commit ourselves. For it is the work of the Kingdom, which is at hand, and which we are called to work with God to expand. For people like me, I think it means actively laying down my privilege to make space for others who do not look like me to lead. It means getting more women, more people of color, more immigrants, more people of non-heteronormative identities, more people other faiths in positions of power.
The system is designed to favor me, but in so doing it marginalizes others. To “drink from the same cup” as Jesus is necessarily to do the work of dismantling such systems to bring about a more truly equitable world. It’s not easy. And it comes at a cost to us. But it’s the good work. In the small ways that I’ve stepped into this work in my life, I’ve found that I too am liberated through it. Protecting systems is anxious work. It traps us. We become the servants of the system rather than the system serving us. The more I work to dismantle marginalizing systems, the more alive my spirit becomes.
It’s hard work, though. It’s scary. It’s uncertain. But it’s life-giving. Try it.