29th Sunday in Ordinary Time. October 18th 2015.
Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45
Drinking the Cup of Hope
“The Cup that I drink, you will drink.”
I was on a flight from Los Angeles to Manila a few weeks after the tragic air disaster of 24th March 2015 in which a Germanwings Airbus A320 crashed in the French Alps while travelling from Barcelona to Duesseldorf leaving more than 140 passengers dead. Thinking of that tragic flight few weeks earlier, I prayed my Rosary more earnestly for a safe trip for us. Just as I finished my Rosary, the man sitting at my side asked me, “If you die today, do you know where you are going?” Talk about getting my attention! I later on learned that he was a Baptist minister. I replied, “I hope to enter into full and perfect communion with the Triune God and the Saints (especially Mother Mary) and Angels in heaven.” He answered, “You only hope?” I knew what hope meant for him, coming from his Christian tradition that teaches “Once saved, always saved.”
What does it mean to hope? In the first place, hope for heaven is not wishful thinking but it is founded on Jesus Christ, what He did and endured for us all that climaxed in the Paschal mystery with His suffering, death, Resurrection, glory and sending of His Spirit to us. No one can add or take away from what Jesus has done on the Cross for us. Secondly, what Christ has done makes it possible and necessary for us to follow in His footsteps, ready to do and to endure all that He did. Christian hope does not dispense us from constant and generous effort in bringing our life to conform to that of Christ. The fact that we are God’s children now demands a constant striving to be more conformed to Jesus Christ. In the words of St. John, “Beloved, we are God’s children now…Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure as He is pure.” (1Jn 3:2,3) I tried my best to communicate this point to my co-passenger.
Today’s Gospel shows James and John approach Jesus with a request for seats on His right and left at His glory. Mark’s Gospel shows that these are two of Jesus’ closest disciples: They were present at the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Mk 1:29, they were witnesses to the raising of Jarius’ daughter in Mk 5:37, and they were present at Jesus’ Transfiguration in Mk 9:2. Despite their closeness to Him and the privileged treatment that they had received from Jesus all these years, Jesus does not immediately canonize them because they begged Him to: “You do not know what you are asking.” Something else is needed – they must be ready to do and endure all that Jesus did and endured and do so for the same reason – the salvation of souls and not just their own glory. That is the meaning of Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Unless they are ready, in imitation of Christ Jesus, to love and serve others with humble selflessness until it hurts, their hope and desire for glory is not complete.
Christian hope, far from making us rest in a false sense of “I have been saved,” impels us to see in Jesus Christ our only model for action and to conform ourselves to Him in all ways, serving others till the point of sharing in the suffering of Christ for the salvation of others. The disciples of Jesus cannot be like the lording Gentile rulers around them but they are to be and act like Jesus Christ, “who did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Our hope lacks vigor if it does not spur us to do and endure what Christ did and endured out of love for others.
Jesus does not promise us eternal life just for our asking simply because we are in a close relationship with Him: “To sit at my right and at my left is not mine to give.” But He promises us that we shall share in all His experiences by drinking His cup, “The cup that I drink you will drink.” This is more than a promise that we will share in His joys and suffering; but this statement is also the basis for our hope because we can only dare to drink His cup only because Christ has drunk from it first.” We can only hope to be faithful in our suffering, overcome sin, death, and the devil, rise from the grave and be in beatific vision for all eternity only because Christ has first accomplished all this in His humanity. Who can dare to put his lips to His cup if Christ has not first drank that cup to the dregs for us already?
This is the message that the Prophet Isaiah has in today’s First Reading. Prophesying about the suffering of Christ over 600 years before the actual Passion of Christ, he said, “If my servant gives His life as an offering for sin, He shall see His descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through Him.” Jesus has fulfilled that condition and laid down His life for us, and by so doing, He has made us His coheirs of eternal life and made it possible for us too to do what He did and accomplish the will of the Father through Him.
The letter to the Hebrews in the Second Reading is written to Jewish Christians who were tempted to revert back to Judaism because of the persecutions that they faced. The author of the Letter asks them to “hold on to their confession” for two reasons. First of all, Jesus, who was “similarly tempted in all ways yet without sin,” has also “passed through the heavens,” so they can do the same. Secondly, they too can do what Christ did, overcome the persecutions and enter the heavens because Jesus “is able to sympathize with their weaknesses” and ready to offer them “mercy and grace for timely help.” Because Jesus is not a stranger to their infirmities and weaknesses, they will never lack the means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if you should die today, do you know where you are going? I cannot help but think today of the many Christians in Iraq and Syria who are showing us what real Christian hope is as they too willingly place their lives on the line in imitation of Him who laid down His life first for us all. They know where they are going because they are convinced that since Christ has drank that cup first, they too can drink of it and follow where He has gone. Doesn’t their example spur us to greater hope too? Here is matured Christian hope that goes beyond merely longing for the fulfillment of a promise but strives to conform to Jesus Christ in a way that edifies others.
I remember the response of a childhood friend of mine when he learned that I was in the seminary studying for the priesthood. He said to me, “You of all people, a priest?” He did not see my priestly vocation coming and neither did I. Looking back now, how did it come to be? I know it is not because of personal worth on my part or because of anything that I did or accomplished. All I know is that I know of a man who came to this world as the Eternal High Priest born of a young virgin in an obscure Jewish town. This man lived in this world of sin and suffering. This man saw selfishness and vices in the hearts of men and yet this man chose to serve others, to give Himself completely, till He gave His life on the Cross even when He was not understood or appreciated by others. This same man looks at me and beckons on me to share in His priesthood and invites me to do what He has done and endure what He has endured. Yes, the sins and pains of life still remain. But I know that because He has drank this cup, by the mercy and grace that flow from His throne of grace, I too can drink it completely and do so till the end of my life.
In this Eucharist, we too drink His cup. He shares His life intimately with us. This cup is indeed a chalice of hope. Jesus walks before us as our only example and hope. He walks beside us to strengthen us. He walks behind us to clean up our mess – our sins. We will never lack for the grace to do what He has done and endure what He has endured for the salvation of many.
So, if you die today, do you know where you are going? Because Jesus has assured us that that we shall receive all that we need to drink from the cup that He has drank from first, we dare to answer with joy and confidence, “Yes! We know where we are going because all our hope is in Him who has drank that cup first and makes it possible and necessary for us to do the same!”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!