In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:35-45 at v 38), Jesus asks James and John, “Can ye drink of the cup that I drink of?” In Biblical times a cup might be made of pottery, or, for the wealthy, of metal, including gold and silver. By New Testament times it might also be made of glass –again, for the wealthy. But ‘cup’ was often used in a figurative sense, as in v 38. Here Jesus is referring to his approaching death and the judgment on sin that lies behind it, anticipating His cry in Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father … Take this cup from me.” There are Old Testament antecedents for such figurative use (e.g. Isaiah 51:17,22), and Paul echoes it (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). But ‘cup’ may also embrace positive meanings, signifying God’s blessings and bounty and favour, as in Psalm 23 “my cup overflows”. And in the Last Supper the actual cup that Jesus uses becomes the ‘cup’ of the new covenant, signifying new life – the ‘cup of salvation’. It is not only in the Bible that ‘cup’ has figurative meanings. The phrase ‘poisoned chalice’ refers to an award or honour that the recipient is bound to accept even in the knowledge that it will bring misfortune. ‘Chalice’ itself means ‘cup’, from Latin calix, and today is mainly used of the vessel used for the wine in the communion service.
A Word in Season