"And there came near unto Him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto Him, Master, we would that Thou shouldst do for us whatsoever we shall ask of Thee. And He said unto them, What would ye I should do for you? And they said unto Him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and one on Thy left hand, in Thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto Him, We are able. And Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on My right hand or on My left hand is not Mine to give: but it is for them for whom it hath been prepared." MARK 10:35-40 (R.V.)
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.
And 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 blindfold 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?" And when they asked for the chief seats in the glory that was yet to be their Master's, no wonder that the Ten hearing of it, had indignation. 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 at which the daring request was made.
It was on the road, during the last journey, when a panic had seized the company; and our Lord, apparently out of the strong craving for sympathy which possesses the noblest of 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.
Ignorant and rash she may have been, 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.
And 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 draught, yet Jesus did not declare them to be deceived. He said, Ye shall indeed share these.
Nor can we doubt 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.
1. Very significant is the test of worth which Jesus propounds to them: 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 plaudits are not for simple men and women, but for high station, genius, and success. But the Lord looketh upon the heart, not the brain or the hand; He values the worker, not the work; the love, not the achievement. And, 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. And 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 mean 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 heightened his forehead nor refined his face: we look at him, but little dream what the angels see, or how perhaps because of such an 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 that overcometh will I give to sit down with Me upon My throne."
2. Significant also 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 draught, 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 giveth, 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.
3. 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 to share His very baptism and His cup. Not that we can add anything to His all-sufficient sacrifice. Our goodness extendeth 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.
And 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." And 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 withal shall ye be baptized." Even so: it is enough for the servant that he be as his Master