Jesus said to them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able…” (Mark 10:38-39)
In our gospel lesson for this coming weekend, Jesus will be confronted by the sons of Zebedee who demand that he give them whatever they want. Rather than outrightly shutting them down, Jesus responds with a reality check: are you sure you can really take that for which you ask?
He speaks in code to them about drinking a cup and being baptized. As they are the disciples in the midst of his ministry, it is somewhat up in the air if they truly understand what he is saying. They often do not.
Here’s the rub: do we understand what he is saying?
Jesus is referring to baptism in a way that we are not used to and one with which we are not comfortable in any way. He is referring to a different type of baptism than the pleasant dunking or sprinkling of babies and grown-ups who want to join the family of faith. He does this because there are three types of baptism in the Christian tradition.
The first is by water. It is a sacrament to us because Jesus enacted it and because we believe that God is truly present through the Holy Spirit, sealing us as God’s own beloved. It is an outward sign of an inward change – one that comes when God’s timing is right.
The second type of baptism is baptism by fire. This is the Spirit’s baptism which is the true seal offered by God in God’s own time. This is the baptism that occurs with confession of Christ as Lord and with God’s desire to seek after us. It is the baptism of the Spirit, the holy Fire, that causes the true change within us that baptism by water is meant to represent.
Then there is the third form: baptism by blood. This is a type of baptism reserved for the martyrs of the faith. It is the ultimate form of baptism because it seals our faith not only with water or the Spirit, but with our own life force.
This is the type of baptism to which Jesus refers in this passage. The cup is the cup of blood shed for you and for me – poured out in his martyrdom to come. What James and John do not realize is that they are agreeing to their own sacrifice when they assent to Jesus’ question. They will pay the ultimate price for their faith.
Among the questions that this passage raises is this: are we so ready to pay the ultimate price for our faith? Jesus has told us that “no one has greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Could we give ourselves so willingly?
Ultimately, we signify the baptism by blood and fire by the baptism by water. We are baptized into Christ’s death so that we may rise with him into new life. The new life requires that every day we find more and more ways to give of ourselves as Christ has given himself for us. And to be willing to one day pay that ultimate price if necessary – though most of us never will.
My friends, we love because God first loved us. Loved us so much that Christ died and rose for us. Now, let us go and live out that love so that the whole world will know and may one day see the Holy Spirit descend upon them in a blaze of fire as well.