The gospel asks James and John if they can drink from the cup and be baptized with the baptism of Jesus. In studying the scriptures, we soon realize what was true for their day is also true for our day. So, what is this cup and what is baptism? Especially today when we think baptism is just the pouring of water over a baby’s head. Is that all there is? Not quite. That is why we look at all the readings to understand what the fathers of the Church wanted us to know.
The reading from Isaiah is known as the fourth Suffering Servant psalm. Someone is being crushed for the sins of the world and in his suffering, many will be saved. This psalm was written seven hundred years before Jesus. We know now that it is written as a prophecy about Jesus, but who did people of that time think it was for? For Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or some other prophet? We really do not know. We do know that the early teachers of the Jewish faith, even teachers during the life of Jesus knew this passage well and asked the same question, who is this person? There is one other time we see these words. We find them in the story of Phillip teaching the eunuch. Remember, the eunuch was reading Isaiah and asked Phillip what these words meant. Phillip explained the mission of Jesus. The eunuch recognizing the suffering servant to be Jesus asked what was preventing him from being baptized. As they were passing water, Phillip baptized the eunuch. Is this the baptism the gospel speaks of today?
For this reading Jesus, His disciples, and many people are heading toward Jerusalem for Passover. This means there would be thousands of people walking along the Jordan river. There were no hotels, so people would be camping and traveling together on foot. It would be about a three-day journey from Galilee. Jesus would be teaching on the way. The people would have no knowledge that Jesus was proceeding to His death. Perhaps they were thinking that now Jesus would overthrow the Romans and take command as king. If so, then it makes sense that James and John would ask to be at His right and His left to be in command with Jesus. This is when Jesus asks if they can drink from the cup He will drink from and be baptized with the baptism He will receive.
To drink from the cup, the king would taste the wine and if acceptable he would give it to the one on his right, then on his left. Sounds like a good thing to be in charge. The baptism would have been understood to be the ritual bathing the king would do each day. James and John would have had the entirely wrong understanding. Jesus instructs His disciples that the cup He will drink and the baptism He will receive will be from His suffering and His serving of others. Of course, not knowing yet that Jesus is to suffer and die they do not understand. Soon they will. And they will remember the words Jesus spoke. They would also remember the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the suffering servant. Now they will know that the prophecy of Isaiah is that it will be God who becomes the suffering servant.
Now that we recognize God as the suffering servant, Jesus has taught us to love as He loved. In the waters of baptism, we die to Christ and then are raised. Our lives will be reflective of the suffering servant as we drink from the cup Jesus drank and our baptized into new life with Him. And as we are raised with Him to new life we are in the Body of Christ. As Jesus stands before God even now, so do we with Him in this new life given through the waters of baptism. We are in that glory of Jesus. So, as Hebrews says we can approach the throne of God to find mercy and receive grace.
May the Lord bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen