Monday, March 08, 2010

The Cup of the Kingdom

“They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, he would not drink. Then they crucified Him…” (Mt. 27:34)

We should recall that running up to this scene Jesus has described His own sufferings and death as a “cup” that He will drink. Back in chapter 20, Jesus asked James and John if they were able to drink the cup that He was about to drink (20:22). In chapter 26, when He instituted the Lord’s Supper at Passover, He gave the disciples the cup which He said was His blood shed (26:27-28). And then later in chapter 26, Jesus prayed to the Father that the cup might be taken from Him, but that if He had to drink it, He would submit to the will of the Father. So as Jesus refuses to drink the cup of sour wine mingled with gall, He is simultaneously accepting that cup of suffering which He has been speaking about all along. He was probably offered the sour wine as an anesthetic to help deaden some of the pain of crucifixion, but the cup that He was to drink required that He accept the pain. And so He does. He refuses one cup in order to drink the other. But what’s also interesting is that there is another string of uses of the word “drink.” At the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, he records Jesus admonishing His disciples not worry about what they will eat or drink or wear because their heavenly Father will provide for all their needs (6:25-32). Then toward the end, in chapter 25, in the parable of the sheep and the goats in the kingdom, the emphasis is on giving Jesus food and drink and clothing through ministering to the “least of these my brethren” (Mt. 25:35-46). These passages describe what life in the Kingdom is to be like. In the Kingdom, we are not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear because we are expected to care for another, bearing one another’s burdens such that even the least among us are fed and clothed. But in the passion narrative, we see Jesus fulfilling this Kingdom life in shocking ways. He prays to his heavenly Father, and a cup to drink is provided. He calls out to His heavenly Father and He has clothing, even a scarlet robe. In the life of the Kingdom, the Father provides, but the Father provides a cup and clothing that is not painless. In fact, the point in Jesus’ decline of one cup in preference for the other, is an acceptance of pain, an endurance of suffering over the cup that might mask the pain. So what is this cup that we drink? This cup is the cup of suffering and death and blood, the cup of the cross. But this cross is not a dead-end; this cup of the cross is the cup that we drink in the Kingdom, assuring us that we need not worry about food or drink or clothing. This is the cup that we share with one another, even the least of these. And this cup is our glory, our crown, our joy, our hope.

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