The Cups of Sorrow and Joy

An excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?:

“Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” When Jesus brought this question to John and James, and when they impulsively answered with a big “We can,” he made this terrifying, yet hope-filled prediction: “Very well; you shall drink my cup.” The cup of Jesus would be their cup. What Jesus would live, they would live. Jesus didn’t want his friends to suffer, but he knew that for them, as for him, suffering was the only and necessary way to glory. Later he would say to two of his disciples: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?” (Luke 24:26) The “cup of sorrows” and the “cup of joys” cannot be separated. Jesus knew this, even though in the midst of his anguish in the garden, when his soul was “sorrowful to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38), he needed an angel from heaven to remind him of it. Our cup is so often full of pain that joy seems completely unreachable. When we are crushed like grapes, we cannot not think of the wine we will become. The sorrow overwhelms us, makes us throw ourselves on the ground, face down, and sweat drops of blood. Then we need to be reminded that our cup of sorrow is our cup of joy and that one day we will be able to taste the joy as fully as we now taste the sorrow.

Soon after the angel had given him strength, Jesus stood up and faced Judas and the cohort who had come to arrest him. When Peter drew his sword and struck the high priest’s servant, Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back in its scabbard; am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:10-11).

Now Jesus is no longer overcome by anguish. He stands in front of his enemies with great dignity and inner freedom. He holds his cup filled with sorrow but with joy too. It is the joy of knowing that what he is about to undergo is the will of his Father and will lead him to fulfillment of his mission. The Evangelist John shows us the enormous power that emanates from Jesus. He writes: “Knowing everything that was to happen to him, Jesus came forward and said [to Judas and the cohort]: ‘Who are you looking for? They answer, ‘Jesus the Nazarene,’ He said, ‘I am he.’… When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they moved back and fell on the ground” (John 18:4-6).

Jesus’ unconditional yes to his Father had empowered him to drink his cup, not in passive resignation but with the full knowledge that the hour of his death would also be the hour of his glory. His yes made his surrender a creative act, an act that could bear much fruit. His yes took away the fatality of the interruption of his ministry. Instead of a final irrevocable end, his death became the beginning of a new life. Indeed, his yes enabled him to trust fully in the rich harvest the dying grain would yield.

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