The disciples and Jesus are on the way to Jerusalem; on the way to the seat of power. James and John can feel it in their bones. Jesus is on the way to victory. And they have a grand idea. It’s so grand in fact that they don’t want to take the risk of suggesting the details to Jesus, so they start out by saying, “Jesus we want you do something for us, so just say Yes.” Jesus has been around the block a time or two so he doesn’t commit himself till he gets the details of the request.
Now I expect James and John grew up learning the hymns of their religion and had a preference for that lovely psalm that says we humans are created just a little less than the angels, with dominion over everything else in creation. Like us, they probably had their favourite stories. I hunch that story of Job didn’t get top billing. They probably didn’t ask their mom to tell it as a bedtime story. Wouldn’t you rather hear that God has made us just a touch less glorious that the angels of heaven, rather than hear God’s response to Job in chapter 38? Actually it’s not just chapter 38. God goes on for four chapters straight, reminding Job that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that God didn’t really need his help (or ours) to set the world in order, not even the birds or lions need our help. Can you feed the lion? (Only if you’re slower than the lion – cause you’ll be lunch!)
God’s response to Job’s lament isn’t to shelter and comfort him, but to widen his perspective immensely. Job, and we, if we dare listen in, are confronted by our minuteness in creation. Rather than being the crowning glory of God’s creation, we see that nothing else in creation is reliant on our survival, whereas we rely on everything that has been created before us for our survival – light and dark, water and earth, plant and animal. Humbling stuff! But James and John apparently aren’t thinking about Job – I just wanted to work it into the sermon!
So, James and John, with that psalm of humanity’s greatness planted in their mind, and the modelling of every super power that has ever taken over their little nation, figure it’s their turn. Jesus is going to be the Messiah, the champion, and they are going to have a special place, they will be his Governor General and Prime Minister.
So they pitch their plan to Jesus. Jesus says it like it is. `You don’t know what you’re asking’ then asks the question –`Are you able to drink from the cup I’ll drink from?’ And they say `Yes.’ And here my friends, we encounter the gift of naivety – whether that naivety is about being in power and getting to `lord it over’ others, thinking you can be all things to all people, or fix the world by the singular decision to follow Christ.
The gift of naivety? Yes, in this case a gift, because none of us would say `Yes’ to Jesus if we really knew what we were in for.
Several years ago, I attended a Christmas banquet in Williams Lake. It was an ecumenical Christian Youth gathering. The high-priced guest speaker, flown in from Vancouver, told the youth that the hardest decision they would ever have to make, was the decision to follow Jesus. All decisions after that would be simple. All you had to do then was just pray and Jesus would give you the answer.
I remember sitting with our youth from SAUC and doodling on the napkins, and rolling my eyes in a not very affirming or polite manner. This was to quell the hysteria rising in me that felt revulsion at the words of the guest speaker. Should I get up and challenge him? I felt something was terribly wrong with what he was saying, but as an introvert, I needed pondering time to think of what I wanted to say. Well, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, so I’ve got my response ready!
What I wanted to say that night is “Don’t’ lie to these kids.” Making a decision to follow Jesus is the easy part. Even James and John just hopped off their dad’s boat – left the half- mended nets, and fish rotting in the sun, and followed him. But no decision they ever make from that day forward was that easy. They thought they knew what they were doing, but had to constantly rethink what Jesus was saying. Drinking the cup, being baptized with Jesus’ baptism took much more than they originally thought.
The cup of Jesus has the taste of suffering in it. And naively saying `Yes, we are able to drink from this cup’ will mean different things for each of us.
And there will be times on our faith journey that we will feel like the prophet Jeremiah whom I quoted in my covenanting service last year. Jeremiah, who in chapter 20 of the book that bears his name, cries out, “You tricked me God, and I fell for it.’ (You seduced me God, and I let myself be seduced. NJB)
If you have not given up on the institution of the church, you know that congregational power dynamics can be fraught with difficulty, with people who misuse personal power, or whose emotional pain may be triggered by something you say or do, and it seems like all hell breaks loose.
Our faith will challenge us to move beyond our own comfort, beyond a cozy `Jesus and me’ relationship to saying what is the cup that I must drink if I share it with Jesus. What is the challenge Jesus’ life and ministry presents to me – when I cast my ballot, when I hear of nearly a million refugees on the move, when I choose my mode of transportation and when I have to respond to someone in need, even when I think their story may be somewhat suspect?
And yet, the cup of suffering is also the cup of blessing. In a faith community you get to be part of the `Aha’ moments for people on their faith journey. You get to hold their tears, know them by name and you get to love them.
As a disciple of Jesus, as a person of faith, you get to tend the seed that someone before you has planted, and sometimes you get to see the seeds you planted grow and flower. Blessings will pour from this cup as you find yourself praying `Thank you, thank you, thank you, that you put me here today – that you gave me the words of comfort that someone needed to hear’, or ‘Thank you, that you helped me to keep my mouth shut and gave me the gift of listening.’ Because teachings and teachers will come to you from the most unexpected sources.
So where is our place – we mere mortals? There is a crazy beautiful poem by U.A. Fanthorpe where she has Jesus lamenting that Moses got to write on tablets, and the prophets got to write on wood or walls or papyrus, whereas he alone writes on flesh, like a tattoo artist. Jesus speaks of Peter…
“…Pete, with his headband stuffed with fishhooks,
his gift for rushing in where angels wouldn’t,
Tom, for whom metaphor is anathema,
and James and John, who want the room at the top –
these numbskulls are my medium, I called them.
I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives.
My Keystone Cops of disciples, always running absurdly away,
or lying ineptly, cutting off ears and falling into the water,
these Sancho Panzas must tread my Quixote life,
dying ridiculous and undignified,
flayed and stoned and crucified upside down,
they are the dear, the human, the dense, for whom my message is.
That might, had I not touched them,
have died decent and respectable upright deaths in bed.“
Our place is there with the bumbling buffoons who say Yes to Jesus; who want to follow, and sometimes get it right. Our place is there as a speck in the vast mystery of life completely beyond comprehension and our place is cradled in the heart of the Holy One who will not step away from divine confrontation and compassion, and who welcomes us to be on the journey. May we have the courage to take our place. Amen.