Can You Drink?

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Feast of Saint James, Apostle


Matthew 20:20-28

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


Opening Prayer: Lord, thank you for your presence with me here today. I come to you in faith. I come to you with hope, and I come out of love. Lord help me find that servant’s heart that draws me ever closer to you. 


Encountering Christ:


  1. Mothers!: This passage strikes a funny tone on St. James’s feast day, as this might have been an embarrassing moment for the sons of thunder. As their mother asked Jesus for this favor, the other ten overheard this and must have been taken aback. But Jesus took this opportunity to teach, not their mother Salome, but James and John directly. “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Both said yes! They couldn’t have known to what they were assenting. Their ambition overcame them. It’s a perfect description of pride in action. We fall into believing that we can accomplish anything God asks of us. We enthusiastically answer “yes” and set out to do things on our own—and often fail miserably. When do we succeed? When our aim is to become the servant of all, the slave of others, not the “first mate.” 
  2. The Others Became Indignant: There is a certain irony in this verse. If the ten apostles only wanted the best for James and John, indignation would probably not have been their response. We can assume that they aspired to the same honor. It is oddly comforting that even those closest to Christ occasionally squabbled amongst themselves over worldly status. But, like the Gospel story of the splinter and the plank (Matthew 7:4), we should take a good look first at our own false ambitions, our own self-reliance, our own little vanities, before we criticize anyone for seeking power, honor, or wealth.
  3. We Can: When James and John confirmed that they would, indeed, be willing to drink the chalice, Christ responded, “My chalice you will indeed drink.” They had no idea that the chalice meant their suffering and death, but Christ knew well that they were to live out their mission to serve him by their martyrdom. May we today and always be willing to accept the chalices of suffering we encounter as part of God’s mission for us, knowing that he will use everything as an opportunity to draw us closer to the Father. 


Conversation with Christ: Lord I have some disordered passions and misdirected desires, but you still see in me the fulfillment of the mission to which you have called me. Do not let the evil one derail me by my pride, vanity, or sensuality but continue to draw me nearer to you so that I, like the apostles who went before me, can become the servant leader that you need to bring souls to you.


Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will plan to make a good confession and put the date on the calendar. I will confess my sins out of contrition, not guilt, so I can receive an outpouring of your love and grace to be the servant leader you are calling me to be.


For Further Reflection: How Can I Identify My Root Sin?


Bob Cohn and his wife Jeanette live in Maryland and have spent the last thirty-five years raising seven children, working in their parish, and singing together. He is an electrical engineer with a manufacturing firm, and he loves to share his faith through speaking and writing.

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