Day 37 – Can You Drink the Cup? – Henri Nouwen

Day 37

Can You Drink the Cup?

Henri Nouwen


I have looked at many cups: golden, silver, bronze, and glass cups, splendidly decorated and very simple cups, elegantly shaped and very plain cups. Whatever their material, form, or value, they all speak about drinking. Drinking, like eating, is one of the most universal of human acts. We drink to stay alive, or we drink ourselves to death. When people say: “He drinks a lot,” we think of alcoholism and family trouble. But when they say: I wish you could come over to have a drink with us, we think about hospitality, celebration, friend ship, and intimacy.

It is no surprise that the cup is such a universal symbol. It embodies much that goes on in our lives.

Many cups speak of victory; soccer cups, football cups, and tennis cups are eagerly desired trophies. Pictures of captains holding a victory cup while being carried triumphantly on the shoulders of their teams are imprinted in our memories as reminders of our excitement at winning moments. These cups speak of success, bravery, heroism, fame, popularity, and great power.

Many cups also speak of death. Joseph’s silver cup, found in Benjamin’s sack, spelled doom. The cups of Isaiah and Jeremiah are the cups of God’s wrath and destruction. Socrates’ cup was a poisonous one given to him for his execution.

The cup that Jesus speaks about is neither a symbol of victory nor a symbol of death. It is a symbol of life, filled with sorrows and joys that we can hold, lift, and drink as a blessing and a way to salvation. “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” Jesus asks us. It is the question that will have a different meaning every day of our lives. Can we embrace fully the sorrows and joys that come to us day after day? At one moment it might seem so easy to drink the cup, and we give a quick yes to Jesus’ question. Shortly afterwards everything might look and feel quite different, and our whole being might cry out, “No, never!” We have to let the yes and the no both speak in us so that we can come to know ever more deeply the enormous challenge of Jesus’ question.

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