From The Crucified Is My Love
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:20-23)
It was a great-hearted request that John and James made through their mother, Salome, to their Master. The thought was a noble one that considered all places of honor beside Earthly kings as nothing in comparison with a seat of honor at Jesus’s side. The faith was great: that the glory of the humble Son of Man, in spite of all he had said about suffering, would soon surpass all human grandeur. The love was ardent, seeking no more blessed goal than to stay beside the Lord forever. A noble courage was needed to dare to ask for such a thing. Yet in spite of all this, an alien fire burned in this request of the Sons of Thunder, for it also contained a forward vanity, a thoughtless pride, and a human messianic hope. So with gentle dignity the Lord rebuked them: “You do not know what you are asking,” and held before their eyes the cup that he would have to drink and the baptism that he would have to undergo. Thus he reminded them in two pictures of the suffering and death facing him.
Just as once the waters of the Jordan (beside whose banks they were now standing) had been poured over him at his baptism on beginning his mission, now the dark waves of outward suffering were to flood over him. Just as the precious contents of the wine glass must be savored to the full, so he must take the wine of tribulation and accept it inwardly. He must drain God’s cup of wrath in humble submission if the Father’s counsel is to be carried out. In this way the Lord wants to impress deeply upon them the fundamental principle of his kingdom: greatness only through humility; sovereignty only through service; the crown only through the cross. Whoever wants to ascend with Jesus must first descend with him.
The deep-going question of conscience that Jesus asked – if they could drink his cup and endure his baptism – was answered by both disciples in rash self-confidence, but also in daring truthfulness, with a joyful “Yes!” Later they both honored this “Yes” – John through a long life filled with suffering in faithful service of the Lord, and James through his early, bloody death.
No one can be a Christian without the cross. The closer we would be to the Lord, the deeper we have to go with him, outwardly or inwardly, into his humiliation and into his suffering. That is essential. So let the Lord’s question pierce deeply into your conscience, my soul: Can you, will you drink his cup? Will you endure his baptism? Blessed are all who, through life and death, can humbly answer, “Yes.”