Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Sharing the cup
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the March 17, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
A few readers of this column may remember the good ol’ days when a gang of bicycling buddies would stop at the local gas station or grocery store to share a pop. After the nickel exchange (yes, five cents!) for the delight of the gods, the bottle was passed one to the other. Only the squeamish kids bothered to wipe off the glassy top before imbibing. You knew you were in thick with the gang if you simply took your guzzle and passed on the bottle.
There is something endearing about those days when life seemed simple and the greatest concerns of youth focused on having enough worms for fishing or worrying if Johnny’s mom had remembered to make enough PB&J’s for everyone.
People don’t seem to share beverages in such unabashed fashion anymore. When was the last time you saw someone offer their coffee cup to the person across the table? Or offer a swig from those ever-present quart bottles of water? Nowadays, we each now have our own containers. And we are much more conscious about the spread of germs – and, I suppose, wisely so.
We miss the powerful significance of sharing in the same drinking utensil. In the good ol’ days there seemed to be a bit of bravado for the guys or gals who passed around the Coke or Squirt without wiping the other’s slobbers from its top. The risk went unspoken, but the symbol carried its weight all the same. Sharing the bottle in such fashion was a sign of fellowship and shared commitment. To drink of the same bottle – especially without the fastidious wiping – was a sign of being in, of being included.
Pop bottles have been transformed into small, individualized aluminum containers. And now, most youngsters can afford their own pop – even if it does cost 85 cents!
This bottle-sharing imagery leaps into mind at a scene in the Gospel where Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem, where he will suffer, die and rise. There is no doubt that in that sacred place, the Battle of Battles will be engaged. And who wants to be left out? Who would not want to be on the side of the triumphant Messiah?
The mother of James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, certainly wants a few gold stars for her boys. The “favor” is placed deftly before the Lord. “How ’bout letting my two sons here sit at your right and left when you enter into your day of glory?”
Jesus ignores the mother’s power-focused query and poses a more important one to these two apron-hugging (embarrassed?) disciples: “Can you drink of the same cup I am to drink?”
Their answer is very revealing. With the enthusiasm of adolescents hungry for a fight they respond without thinking, “We can!” Little do they realize what they say.
Jesus’ image of sharing in the same cup was not an on-the spot literary construction. How many, many times during those three or more years of ministry did he sit at evening meal – a Jewish evening meal – and share a cup of blessing with his band of followers? Taking up a cup at the end of those meals, he would have raised heart and voice to God, giving thanks and praise: first for creation then for the land; then for the Davidic covenant, and finally for God’s faithfulness to his promise to save his people. Similar to the breaking of the bread at the beginning of those meals, the blessing prayer would have been followed by a period of silence, as each one around the table shared the same cup. (I doubt very much if anyone bothered to wipe the rim.)
Drinking from this cup in such fashion was a visible commitment to become personally involved in what the gesture communicated. Each one who shared the cup expressed a willingness (if not an eagerness) to become part of the campaign of suffering and sacrifice whose pain and blood-redness was witnessed in the crushed grapes become wine. Each one pledged at the risk of life and limb – not because of germs – to become engaged in the building of the Kingdom.
This sharing was more than a gesture of camaraderie or a participation in a culture-shaped religious ritual. It was a true communion in God’s Plan of Salvation. Those who drank from this cup had to take it seriously.
No wonder Jesus asks the two disciples, whose faces are turned eagerly toward Jerusalem, if they can drink of the same cup he was about to drink. Their enthusiastic “We can!” betrayed their lack of understanding of the seriousness of what loomed before them. Suffer and die for the Kingdom of God, they would indeed do – they as well as the other 10 apostles (and thousands of disciples ever since). Position and power, however, are a grab-bag for those consumed by a value system contrary to that of the Divine Master. Drinking from his cup is never a pledge toward violence, force, vindication or retribution – or whatever else a mis-thinking disciple may think results from sharing in the Lord’s Day of Glory.
As Holy Thursday quickly approaches this year – opening the Sacred Triduum celebrating the Great Paschal Mystery – we, too, will be invited to share in the Lord’s Cup of Suffering. On this holy night, when the Church commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, the priest, deacon or minister could well ask each of us as we approach the altar in the Communion line, “Are you willing to drink of the same cup that the Lord drank of? Are you willing to have your blood spilled – figuratively, if not literally – for the sake of the Kingdom?” Such questions are quietly packaged in the liturgical formula for the presentation of the cup, “The Blood of Christ.” What, then, would be our response? A quick “We can!” as we take our turn to share the cup and move on? On our way back to our place in the pews we could well ask ourselves: Do I realize what I have just done?! Am I truly willing to do what my sacred gesture just said I was willing to do? Lay down my life for the Master’s Kingdom?! Or was all that just a moment of religious ritual and trivial gesture?
Every time we share in the Breaking of the Bread and the Cup of Salvation we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes in glory. No positions of power and prestige guaranteed here. But a personal commitment to sacrifice and service, yes. And plenty of personal risk, too – germs excluded.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics
Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.)
(Download an order form in pdf format to
Inland Register archives
© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved