This week begins a month of preaching on the Gospel of Mark. So, it behooves us to begin by taking a brief look at the context, authorship and audience of this author.
Scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Mark was written somewhere around the year 70 CE, roughly 40 years after Jesus died. Much happened in that time span. Christianity now had a name, and with the help of Paul, it had spread to many places including Rome, Greece and Turkey. However, this new Christian movement was generally not seen as a positive new addition to the empire, and Jewish and Gentile Christians all over were persecuted for their faith. The emperor Nero was famous for persecuting Christians in Rome during this time. Tradition claims that the apostle Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome in 65 CE. In addition, tension has simply gotten worse over the years between Rome and the Jews, sparking the Jewish-Roman War and leading to the complete destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. Fear was in the air for Jews and Christians alike.
Remember that the gospels were not intended as factual accounts of history. They were essentially written sermons composed with an agenda, a purpose. Given the atmosphere at the time, it is not surprising that the author of Mark (who remains undetermined), emphasized Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. To follow Jesus meant to expect persecution, just as he had been persecuted.
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In our passage from this week (Mark 10:35-45) when Jesus asked the disciples if they can drink the cup that he will
drink, or be baptized with the same baptism, it held great metaphorical significance, but it also clearly referred to the path of suffering and death. Since we, as primarily middle-class Americans, do not need to fear being crucified right-side up or up-side down anytime soon, what meaning does this passage hold for us today? What does it mean to drink the cup?
Let’s make the metaphor a little broader… can we drink the cup of our life?
I believe the cup and the baptism were a metaphor for the inevitable suffering on Jesus’ spiritual path to be true to himself, and to his message.
We each have our own life, and our own cup to drink. What if the questions for us today are:
- Can we drink the cup of our own spiritual journeys?
- Can we drink the cup of being true to ourselves and to the essence of our lives?
- Perhaps even, can we drink the cup of the messages of love, forgiveness and hope we proclaim to believe in?
Doing this begins by being able to look at our lives, examine how we are living and even being able to talk about that. Priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen, in his book, Can You Drink the Cup?, says:
“A life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living. It belongs to the essence of being human that we contemplate our life, think about it, discuss it, evaluate it, and form opinions about it. The greatest joy as well as the greatest pain of living come not only from what we live but even more form how we think and feel about what we are living.”
Some days the cup of our lives will be the cup of joy… it will be drinking sweet, white wine or a deep robust red (depending on what you enjoy). Other days the cup will be the cup of sorrow… it will be drinking bitter wine right down to the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. The stuff you want to throw away and exclaim, “This isn’t made for human consumption!”
Life includes both easy and hard, joy and sorrow, love and pain, dancing and mourning. How and why do we keep drinking the cup?
I believe we do it because we must drink fully of all of it in order to live abundantly. We know in our heart and soul that this is the highest path there is in life.
Allow me to humbly share with you my own example. I personally believe that we are all spiritual beings and that the spiritual path is uncovering our authentic self. You know this, I’ve said it a million times. But that is my cup, my commitment to my own life. This means a number of things:
- I strive to keep learning and studying, growing and changing.
- This is not always easy… it challenges me at every corner to re-examine what I believe and to adjust when necessary.
- I keep trying to figure myself out, my reactions to things, my triggers, my baggage, etc. and to work on healing them.
- I work on living what I preach, because I only preach what I believe in my heart to be true. I’m not always successful.
- On and off through the years I have questioned and doubted my vocation. My sense is that everyone has done the same thing… why did I ever become a teacher, nurse, lawyer, vet, engineer, etc.? Surely something else would’ve been easier! So, I examine where that comes from, and search my soul to make sure I’m still being true to me.
- I try to claim all the good times and the tough ones as part of the journey, and keep going (sometimes I kick and scream about this for a while first, but I always get there).
Can we drink the cup of our lives – the good, the bad and the ugly? Can we be true to ourselves? Can we live those things we hold to be true and important to us? And, can we drink it slowly, tasting every mouthful, all the way to the bottom, coming to the end and proclaiming, “It was very good”?