Today's Gospel (Matthew 20: 17-28) has what seems to be an amusing story regarding James and John. Their mother goes to Jesus and ask that they be given places of honor in His kingdom. When Jesus asks them if they are ready to accept what that will mean, they willingly affirm that they are prepared to "drink the chalice". Afterward, the other apostles are not happy about the event. The Lord tries to explain to them about humility and the need to serve others.
These are the "facts" in the Gospel story. But there is more we need to consider. The idea of sitting at His right and left were positions of honor, but there was a twist. Jesus ask them if they are willing to drink of "the chalice that I am going to drink?" This is more than a symbolic question. Kings regularly had others taste their food and drink to insure it was not poisoned. James and John, by answering "yes", indicated that they were willing to die for the Lord.
Now, let's look at some other things we know about the lives of James and John. They were called "sons of thunder", which could have been a comment on the nature of their father's temperament or their own. And given that their mother was the one who made the request of Jesus, it may have been a family trait! They were also chosen to join Peter on the mountain when the Lord was transfigured, and these three were the only ones Jesus asked to accompany Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Obviously Jesus saw something in them that He wanted to nourish in a special way. Flash forward to the crucifixion on Calvary. John would be the one to whom Jesus would entrust His own mother. He must have been impressed with the relationship John had with his own mother, or He would never have thought of leaving Mary in John's care. He would be the only one of the disciples to die of natural causes, and the last survivor of the Twelve. And what about James? Unlike his brother, he would not have to wait years to follow the Lord through death to a new life. He would be the first of the apostles to be martyred (around 44 A.D.), as recounted in Acts 12: 2.
So they did end up drinking of the chalice as the Lord did, albeit in different ways. And we, too, all have a different way that we are called upon to follow the Lord. The "chalices" are different for each of us, but the challenge is always the same: are we willing to drink from it? Each day we are offered a chance, in ways small and large, to imitate the Lord in His willingness to sacrifice. Today, let us ask for the strength to take the chalice, drink from it and follow the Lord's will for us.