Day 32 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 32

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen

Drinking the cup of sorrow and joy is only possible when it bring us health, strength, freedom, hope, courage-new life. Nobody will drink the cup of life when it makes us sick and miserable. We can only drink it when it is a cup of salvation.

This is beautifully expressed in Psalm 116:
The Lord is merciful and upright, our God is tenderness…. My trust does not fail even when I say, “I am completely wretched.” In my terror I said, “No human being can be relied on.” What return can I make to the Lord for his generosity to me? I shall take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116:5, 10-13, New Jerusalem Bible. The word “Yahweh” is replaced by “Lord.”)

Here the mystery of drinking the cup becomes clear. The coming and leaving of friends, the experiences of love and betrayal, of care and indifference, of generosity and stinginess can become the way to true human freedom. Yes, people who love us also disappoint us, moments of great satisfaction also reveal unfulfilled needs, being home also shows us our homelessness. But all of these tensions can create in us that deep, deep yearning for full freedom that is beyond any of the structures of our world.

Indeed, there is a mission emerging out of a life that is never pure sorrow or pure joy, a mission that makes us move far beyond our human limitations and reach out to total freedom, complete redemption, ultimate salvation.

Jesus drank the cup of his life. He experienced praise, adulation, admiration, and immense popularity. He also experienced rejection, ridicule, and mass hatred. At one moment people shouted “Hosanna”; a moment later they cried: “Crucify him.” Jesus took it all in, not as a hero adored and then vilified, but as the one who had come to fulfill a mission and who kept his focus on that mission whatever the responses were. Jesus knew deep within himself that he had to drink the cup to accomplish the work his Abba-his dear Father-had given him. He knew that drinking the cup would bring him freedom, glory, and wholeness. He knew that drinking the cup would lead him beyond the entrapment of this world to complete liberation, beyond the agony of death to the splendor of the resurrection. This knowing had little to do with understanding or comprehending. It was a knowledge of a heart shaped in the garden of eternal love.

Thus the cup which Jesus was willing to drink, and which he drank until it was completely empty, became the cup of salvation. In the garden of Gethsemane, the garden of fear, Jesus’ heart cried out with the psalmist: “No human being can be relied on…. I shall take up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” Drinking the cup of salvation means emptying the cup of sorrow and joy so that God can fill it with pure life.

“Salvation” is about being saved. But from what do we need to be saved? The traditional answer-and the good one-is sin and death. We are entrapped by sin and death as in a hunter’s snare.

When we think for a moment of various addictions-alcohol, drug, food, gambling, sex-we get some idea of that entrapment.


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