Summary: Jesus knew about strong drink. His whole life was but a preparation to drink, not a jigger, but a full cup down to the last dregs.
Some people questioned me about the title of this sermon, “Strong Drink.” How much do I know about strong drink? Actually, nothing; not because of virtue so much as repulsion. Those shows that show a guy tossing down a jigger of whiskey, then shaking his head and letting out a gasp – they make me less inclined to give it a try, rather than tempt me. I once had a jigger of whiskey in my hand, determined to drink it down, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Jesus knew about strong drink. His whole life was but a preparation to drink, not a jigger, but a full cup down to the last dregs. It was not whiskey that he was to drink, but something far more powerful.
The Drink 32-34
32 They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.
That is a curious sentence: why the astonishment and fear? There is no mention of danger, and yet, there is great danger. Jesus is walking into enemy territory, and his disciples and followers know it. They know that the religious leaders hate Jesus, and Jerusalem – the home of the temple, the city of God – is also the headquarters for these enemies. They include the conservative Pharisees and teachers of the law who have been his enemies from the beginning of his ministry, because he has exposed their hypocrisy. They include the aristocratic Sadducees who enjoy their position of power under the Romans and are threatened by Jesus’ popularity and talk about a kingdom. And they include the Herodians, a political group aligned with the Herods, and who also would have felt threatened by Jesus. Jesus has spent most of his ministry either in his home territory of Galilee or in Gentile territory far away from Jerusalem. Now he is walking resolutely to the city.
Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33 “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34 who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
This is the third time Jesus has spoken about his sufferings. The first time, Peter rebuked him; the second time, the disciples were afraid to ask for clarification. For the third time, Jesus speaks plainly. Actually, coming down from the mountain of his transfiguration, he made reference to his suffering again. So four times Mark records Jesus’ teaching about his suffering, death, and resurrection. This must be an important subject, and, indeed, it is the most important subject of all, for it is the mission of the Messiah.
We see this in Jesus’ manner. He is leading the way to Jerusalem. No doubt Jesus’ own resolute demeanor creates the dramatic tension felt by all. And we, of course, see this in his words. “We are going up to Jerusalem for me to die,” he plainly tells the disciples. “I will be betrayed by the very men responsible before God to declare me as the Messiah. Those who should have led me to my throne will condemn me to death and turn me over to the Gentiles.”
This is humiliating. The Jews were looking for the Messiah to come and conquer the Gentiles. But they will instead turn him over to their enemies to humiliate and kill him. Is it no wonder that the disciples did not want to hear this message, that it scared them? Surely they are astonished and frightened by his resolute march to such a terrible end. No wonder that the comment of rising from the dead never has the effect of heartening them. Jesus presents them with an image of horror that they cannot handle. If the person whom you loved with all your heart and who also was your hero whom you believed could never be defeated – if that person started to tell you about the torture that he would soon be going through because of the betrayal of his and your people, could you listen without it driving you crazy? No, no, no! I don’t want to hear this!
Again, now, they have learned not to talk back to Jesus about this subject. Ignoring the subject apparently works best. So, the matter ends and we go to another subject. Surely, then next scene takes place some time later, although Matthew, who also records the conversation, has it following directly after Jesus’ teaching about his death as well.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”