A Caregiver Reflects on Lent
To Receive the Cup Jesus Offers Us
Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
In today’s gospel reading - Mt 20:17-28 - Jesus is again trying to prepare the twelve disciples, his closest friends, for his death. He tells them that they will be going to Jerusalem where he will be handed over to the chief priests and religious officials who will condemn him, then handed over to the Gentiles for crucifixion, and then resurrected on the third day. He tried to tell them twice before, but now he lays it out clearly. The apostles are speechless. They do not cajole, contradict, confirm their steadfast support, or question his meaning; they are uncharacteristically silent.
In this account, Matthew has the mother of James and John break the silence. Disregarding all that Jesus has just said, she skips ahead to happier times when Jesus will be king, sitting on his throne. She demands that her sons each have a place beside him.
Jesus responds by asking James and John if they can drink the cup that I will drink? Can they accept the suffering that will come? He reminds them that his kingdom is not one of privileged places of honor and power. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
When we hear the word “service,” we may think about doing things for others, and the choices we have around offering service. We may choose something that fits our temperament and our time, e.g. serving meals to the homeless or visiting the elderly on weekends. Or we choose a population that we are interested in learning more about, e.g. refugees. Hopefully we choose something that is “for and with others” so it is good for our souls and for our humanity. But where is the suffering in that? It seems like an easy cup to drink from unless we stretch ourselves out of comfort zone, but even then, it is a choice we make.
We all know the evil of the institution of slavery, but Jesus’ use of the word here connotes something different. A servant or a slave doesn’t get to choose who she serves, how she serves, or when she serves. One’s attention is focused on the needs and wishes of another and one’s desires are attuned to the desires of another. Being a good servant involves great personal humility, kindness and a complete setting aside of one’s own agenda. One is at the bidding of another. And while we may have a break, service never ends. It’s a hard cup to drink from.
Caregiving is like that. We respond to the needs of others when it’s inconvenient and give of ourselves in unexpected ways. We might not feel up to what is being asked of us; we may think we don’t have what it takes. We welcome distractions from our single focus of attending to another. Caring for a loved one is not something we sign up for; most of us caring for loved ones didn’t plan to be a caregiver. But we do have a choice…to look for a more exalted place from which to observe Jesus’ suffering, or to receive this cup as invitation from the one who knows us better than we know ourselves, trusting that this is how we are being called to accompany Jesus this Lent, knowing it is the path of our salvation.