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Why we no longer need to run from the cup of suffering
We should avoid suffering if we can lawfully do so, but if not, we must accept it and unite it to the one sacrifice of Christ.
However, as I took that first drink I was surprised by the bitter taste. I thought to myself, “Why would anyone drink this stuff?” It was for me yet another opportunity to be open to something new. After a while I started to enjoy this pre-dinner drink which is intended to open one’s taste buds before the meal.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to offer a drink to his two overconfident disciples James and John. These two men are looking forward to reigning with Christ when His kingdom is established on this earth. Jesus offers to them the symbolic cup which is found throughout the Old Testament and usually implies a trial that must be endured. Without much thought, James and John, arrogantly state that they can drink the same cup as the Son of Man. They really have no idea what they have gotten themselves into!! They have agreed to drink the cup of suffering and endure some piece of the agony that the Lord will bear in His Passion.
Blinded by ignorance and a false notion of the Messiah, James and John believe that they have agreed to drink a cup of blessing. They will reign with Christ when He raises up Israel to its former glory. These two men had no idea of the suffering that the Lord would endure in his baptism of blood. James and John would soon find this out when Jesus was taken away in chains while in the garden and crucified between two criminals. Both would initially run from the cup of suffering. Only John would remain with Mary to walk along the way with Christ. Ultimately, their assent in this passage would foreshadow their future martyrdom after preaching the Gospel throughout the known world.
Suffering seen as only a curse
Although, James and John do not come out looking good in the Gospel today, they really show us our own human tendency to avoid the “cup of suffering” and its bitter taste. Throughout the Old Testament and in the time of Christ suffering was in no way seen as a blessing or a good thing. It was a curse. Those who were sick and suffering were seen as cursed by God.
Yet as we hear in the first reading the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah foreshadowed that the Messiah would be a suffering servant. “…through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.” Jesus will be the lamb of sacrifice who will offer Himself for the salvation of the world. Jesus comes as the suffering one, but also the one who will take away suffering as he heals the sick and even raises the dead.
Suffering an evil, but…
Not much has changed in our outlook on suffering. In our culture, we also tend to run from the cup of suffering and its bitter taste. We try to avoid suffering at every turn. Some have even begun to question the quality or value of the life of those who are sick, aged, and suffering. In some sense, we are correct in saying that suffering is an evil.
God does not and cannot create suffering. Suffering, death, and all evil is the result of Original Sin. God by His nature is all good and all loving. Evil is against the nature of God and cannot be caused by Him. The Lord, though, respects our free will and allows evil, and specifically suffering, to happen so that good might come of it. The crucifixion was a grave evil, but God brought great good from it — the redemption of the human race.
Christ has gone before us
We should avoid suffering if we can lawfully do so, but if not, we must accept it and unite it to theone sacrifice of Christ. Some of the good things that God can bring from our sufferings is growth in patience, humility, compassion for others, faith in God’s providence, and a life of prayer. We can gain much from our suffering because Christ has gone before us. He turned suffering upside down and brought great good out of evil by offering himself as the innocent victim for all.
So at times we, like James and John, are offered the cup of suffering. If we cannot avoid this suffering then it is an opportunity to unite ourselves to Jesus’ offering for the salvation of ourselves and the whole world.
Fr. Joseph Eddy is the vocation director of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy (http://orderofmercy.org/