Mark 10:35-40

(Slightly Rephrased)

"Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, ''Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.' And He said to them, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' They said to Him, 'Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.' But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?' They said to Him, 'We are able.' So Jesus said to them, 'You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared.'" (Mark 10:35-40)

We learn from St. Matthew that Salome was associated with her sons and was indeed the chief speaker in the earlier part of this incident. Her request has commonly been regarded as the mean and shortsighted intrigue of an ambitious woman, recklessly snatching at an advantage for her family and unconscious of the stern and steep road to honor in the kingdom of Jesus.

Nor can we deny that her prayer was somewhat presumptuous, or that it was especially unbecoming to aim at entangling her Lord in a limitless promise, desiring Him to do something undefined, "whatsoever we shall ask of Thee." Jesus was too discreet to answer otherwise than, "What would ye that I should do for you?" So when they asked for the chief seats in the glory that was yet to be their Master's, it is no wonder that the Ten were indignant when they heard of it. But Christ's answer and the gentle manner in which He explains His refusal--when a sharp rebuke is what we would expect to read--alike suggest that there may have been some softening, half-justifying circumstance. And this we find in the period when the daring request was made.

It was on the road during the last journey, when a panic had seized the company. Our Lord, apparently out of the strong craving for sympathy which possesses the noblest souls, had once more told the Twelve what insults and cruel sufferings lay before Him. It was a time for deep searching of hearts, for the craven to go back and walk no more with Him, and for the traitor to think of making his own peace, at any price, with his Master's foes.

But this dauntless woman could see the clear sky beyond the storm. Her sons shall be loyal and win the prize, whatever be the hazard and however long the struggle.

She may have been ignorant and rash, but it was no base ambition which chose such a moment to declare its unshaken ardor and claim distinction in the kingdom for which so much must be endured. When the stern price was plainly stated, she and her children were not startled. They conceived themselves able for the baptism and the cup; and little as they dreamed of the coldness of the waters and the bitterness of the drink, yet Jesus did not declare them to be deceived. He said, "Ye shall indeed share these."

Nor can we doubt but that their faith and loyalty refreshed His soul amid so much that was sad and selfish. He knew indeed on what a dreadful seat He was soon to claim His kingdom, and who should sit upon His right hand and His left. These could not follow Him now, but they should follow Him hereafter--one by the brief pang of the earliest apostolic martyrdom, and the other by the longest and sorest experience of that faithless and perverse generation.

The test of worth which Jesus propounds to them is very significant. It is not successful service but endurance, not the active but the passive graces. It is not our test, except in a few brilliant and conspicuous martyrdoms. The Church, like the world, has crowns for learning, eloquence, energy. It applauds the force by which great things are done. The reformer who abolishes an abuse, the scholar who defends a doctrine, the orator who sways a multitude, and the missionary who adds a new tribe to Christendom--all these are sure of honor. Our loudest acclaim is not for simple men and women but for high station, genius, and success. But the Lord looks upon the heart, not the brain or the hand. He values the worker, not the work; the love, not the achievement. Therefore one of the tests He constantly applied was this--the capability for noble endurance. We ourselves, in our saner moments, can judge whether it demands more grace to refute a heretic or to sustain the long inglorious agonies of some disease which slowly gnaws away the heart of life. Doubtless among the heroes for whom Christ is twining immortal garlands there is many a pale and shattered creature, nerveless and unstrung, tossing on a lowly bed, breathing in imperfect English loftier praises than many an anthem which resounds through cathedral arches, and laying on the altar of burnt sacrifice all he has--even his poor frame itself to be racked and tortured without a murmur. Culture has never lifted his forehead nor refined his face. We look at him but little dream what the angels see, or how perhaps because of such a one the great places which Salome sought were not Christ's to give away, except only to them for whom it was prepared. For these, at last, the reward shall be His to give. As He said, "To him who overcomes will I give to sit down with Me upon My throne."

Also significant are the phrases by which Christ expressed the sufferings of His people. Some, which it is possible to escape, are voluntarily accepted for Christ's sake, as when the Virgin mother bowed her head to slander and scorn and said, "Behold the servant of the Lord, be it unto me according to Thy word." Such sufferings are a cup deliberately raised by one's own hand to the reluctant lips. Into other sufferings we are plunged; they are inevitable. Malice, ill-health, or bereavement plies the scourge. They come on us like the rush of billows in a storm. They are a deep and dreadful baptism. Or we may say that some woes are external, visible; we are seen to be submerged in them. But others are like the secret ingredients of a bitter drink, which the lips know but the eye of the bystander cannot analyze. But there is One Who knows and rewards; even the Man of Sorrows Who said, "The cup which My heavenly Father gives, shall I not drink it?"

Now it is this standard of excellence, announced by Jesus, which shall give high place to many of the poor and ignorant and weak, when rank shall perish, when tongues shall cease, and when our knowledge in the blaze of new revelations shall utterly vanish away--not quenched, but absorbed like the starlight at noon.

We observe again that men are not said to drink of another cup as bitter, or to be baptized in other waters as chill as tried their Master, but are to share His very baptism and His cup. Not that we can add anything to His all-sufficient sacrifice. Our goodness extends not to God. But Christ's work availed not only to reconcile us to the Father, but also to elevate and consecrate sufferings which would otherwise have been penal and degrading. Accepting our sorrows in the grace of Christ and receiving Him into our hearts, then our sufferings fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ (Col. `1:24), and at the last He will say, when the glories of heaven are as a robe around Him, "I was hungry, naked, sick, and in prison in the person of the least of these."

Hence it is that a special nearness to God has ever been felt in holy sorrow and in the pain of hearts which, amid all clamors and tumults of the world, are hushed and calmed by the example of Him Who was led as a lamb to the slaughter. Thus they are not wrong who speak of the Sacrament of Sorrow; for Jesus, in this passage, applies to it the language of both sacraments.

It is a harmless superstition even at the worst which brings to the baptism of many noble houses water from the stream where Jesus was baptized by John. But here we read of another and a dread baptism consecrated by the fellowship of Christ in depths which plummet never sounded, and into which the neophyte goes down sustained by no mortal hand.

Here is also the communion of an awful cup. No human minister sets it in our trembling hand. No human voice asks, "Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink?" Our lips grow pale and our blood is chill, but faith responds, "We are able." The tender and pitying voice of our Master, too loving to spare one necessary pang, responds with the word of doom: "The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized with shall be be baptized." Even so. It is enough for the servant that he be as his Master.

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