Jesus here is pointing to something that, in the Church, we call ‘vicarious suffering.’ Can you undergo something unpleasant, maybe even fatal, without demanding a return for yourself. Undergo it because it’s what you’ve been handed, maybe for the benefit of others–like the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. That notion is utterly alien to contemporary society, in which we are told to avoid suffering at all cost and complain loudly if we can’t.
But sometimes, vicarious suffering–drinking an unpleasant cup, being dunked in a baptism of tears, all with no pay out at the end–is precisely what the world needs. It’s not just noble and stoic to suffer for others: it’s almost the definition of love. Because when we choose to love someone, really love them, we’re bound to hurt them, or to get hurt by them. We’re saying to one another that our love for one another is so great, so firm, that we trust one another enough to ache and not just to laugh. If we can take that level of love, which every married person or parent understands, and apply it to our neighborhoods and congregations and enemies and allies and indeed, our whole wide world, then beauty, joy, forgiveness, peace can flow. Not for me–I’m suffering, remember–but for everyone else. And isn’t that something worth pursuing?
I don’t know what your cup is, but drain it, not complaining but with purpose, for the life of the world. I don’t know where your baptismal pool is, but jump in, not whining about how cold and deep it is but with eagerness, for the upbuilding of the Kingdom. Sometimes, it’s not living life to the fullest, but embracing suffering nobly and willingly, that really matters.