group that Jesus gathered around himself is technically called
a faction. Members of such a group each have a direct, important,
and relatively strong relationship with the leader but very
little knowledge of or relationship with each other.
In today’s story, James and John, two blood relatives, do something very normal
and customary in this culture within factions. They jockey for a higher position
of honor in the group and care nothing about the others. When Jesus receives
his full measure of honor, these two brothers want a share in it by gaining the
most prestigious positions next to him. In this culture, everything is always
Each group member already possesses a degree of honor that derives from birth.
Nothing can be added to or subtracted from that honor. Thus, Jesus from Nazareth
is an artisan’s son. Simon and Andrew are sons of Jonah, as James and John are
sons of Zebedee.
But honor can also be achieved, most often through honor contests known as “challenge
and riposte.” One person asks questions of another in hopes of shaming him and thereby
increasing his own honor. The request of James and John is still another way
of achieving honor: personal effort. Here, the effort is little more than the
request for a favor.
Since Jesus is the acknowledged leader of this group, he can do a favor for individual
members and grant them privileges that would make them stand out in relationship
to others. Of course, the others are incensed to learn of this move and express
indignation (Mk 10:41).
Instead of granting the favor, Jesus asks if the brothers “can drink the
cup” that he drinks which constitutes his claim to achieved honor. Like
all metaphors, this one, too, developed from a real-life custom.
culture, the head of the family fills the cups of all at table. Each one is expected
to accept and drink what the head of the family has given.
Since all theology
is based on analogy, and the behavior of God is assumed to be like the behavior
of human beings in a given culture, the cup came to represent the lot in life
which God has assigned for each person (see Ps 11:6; 16:5; 23:5; etc.).
If Jesus accepts his assigned lot, he will attain the honor determined by God
(Mk 14:36). The brothers impetuously affirm that they can indeed accept and
fulfill the same lot assigned to Jesus.
At this point, Jesus reminds them that he is a broker in the kingdom and not
its patron. Jesus can put others in touch with God the patron, but it is God
alone who determines each person’s lot and deserved honor.
John J. Pilch
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.
Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
Copyright © 1997 by The Order of St.
Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, MN.
All rights reserved.
Used by permission from The
Liturgical Press, Collegeville,
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle B
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1996. pp. 151-153.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
(A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/