To call a person “malleable” is generally not a compliment.
In common terms, it means the person’s opinions and values are easily reshaped by the conditions around them, or by the pressure of other people.
In our society, where it is valued for a person’s views and values to be unswering, being malleable is not a desired attribute at all.
But, as is almost always the case, Christ calls us into a way that is absolutely counter to our social conditioning. In no uncertain terms, Christ demands we be malleable.
The trick, of course, is that we must make ourselves malleable to the hands of God, and not to the shifting whims of this world.
In our Gospel reading for today, we see the disciples James and John being unfortunately swayed by the ways of the latter.
As he’s walking with the Twelve, Jesus tells them: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
On hearing Jesus — their Lord — is about to be horribly tortured and executed, and then rise again, their response is predictable in terms of this world. They — with a little help from mama — ask to share in the power they assume is coming — power that looks like this world.
Jesus asks them: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”
Of course, they answer “We are able.”
But, they misunderstand the question. They misunderstand what they’re signing on to receive.
They, like the world instructs us, want to drink of the cup of power. Prestige. Position. Glory. Fortune. It’s all to be had at the cup of Christ. Or, so they believe.
What they misunderstood, and what we too-often forget, is Christ offers a very different cup.
“You will indeed drink my cup,” Jesus tells them.
It’s a promise of salvation. But, it’s also a promise of the cross. It’s a promise of the hard path to Golgotha.
For James, this will end in being beheaded, after much hard discipleship in Spain. John will follow Christ to the cross, and stand beside Mary in the final hours. John drank from a literal cup of poison — he survived — and lived his last days in exile on the island of Patmos.
James and John drank from the hard cup of martyrdom, torture and exile. They were able to accept that cup because they accepted a fundamental shift in the meaning of Christ’s cup after that unfortunate scene on the road to Jerusalem.
They came to understand, as we all must, if we will follow Christ, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
They came to accept that, as we must, by making themselves malleable to the ways of Christ — to the way of service and self-sacrificial love — rather than to the ways of the world — of greed, fear and power-lust.
The prophet Jeremiah is sometimes called the weeping prophet because of all he suffered in life, and all Israel suffered in his time. He wrote an entire book called Lamentations.
But, Jeremiah does not write about resenting or resisting this suffering. He writes about being malleable to God — to opening ourselves to be shaped by the suffering we encounter.
In today’s reading, God calls to Jeremiah, and to us: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”
We see a potter, working clay: “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.”
We should note the vessel was not spoiled by the potter’s hand. God does not cause us to suffer. God does not cause us to follow the ways of this world.
When we follow the ways of this world — when we drink from the cup of greed, fear and hate — we mishape ourselves.
But, God always is ready to take us back up — to reshape us, mold us and make us back into our true selves — into God’s own image.
This is no painless process. As St. Paul tells us in Hebrews, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” But it is only in God’s hands that we can be reshaped. And it is only in complete surrender that we can be made malleable to the will of the Living God.
Being reshaped will upset our lives. It will drive us to see things and act in ways contrary to this world. It will cause — in the terms of this world — suffering.
But, as Mother Teresa tells us, that’s how we know we’re on the right path.
“Pain and suffering have come into your life,” she said, “but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
Pain and suffering follow the cup of Christ — not by God’s doing, but by the friction between the ways of this world and the ways of the Kingdom of God. If we follow the latter, we will suffer at the hands of the former. But that kind of suffering is only a sign we are malleable enough to be reshaped — surrendered enough to be reborn.
Eternal God, give us courage to surrender entirely to your loving hands, that we may be reshaped and remade into a form that serves your will and your ways. Lead us to your cup, and let us drink in the true spirit of your love. Amen.