“You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup ...” (Matthew 20:22)

“You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22)

A mother's request

This follows a mother’s request, where she kneeled before Jesus to ask him:
“Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” (Matt. 20:21).

“You don’t know what you are asking."

This clearly indicates that the woman is not realizing what this would curtail. She doesn't realize the work needed and the change of heart needed for one to return to the spiritual realm. And she doesn't realize the process that is required.

In other words, the Supreme Being doesn't want us to return to the spiritual realm unless we are ready. The citizens of the spiritual realm want to be with the Supreme Being. They love Him and want to please Him.

But because love requires freedom, the Supreme Being gave all of us the freedom to love Him or not. Those who didn't want to love Him became self-centered (due to the void created by not loving God) and were sent away from the spiritual realm: We were given physical bodies within the physical realm. These physical bodies allow us not to see the Supreme Being.

Within the physical realm, we can forget God and pretend He doesn't exist.

This means returning to the spiritual realm requires a significant change of heart. One's self-centeredness must be healed before one can return to the spiritual realm. Otherwise, it would be like being a bull in a china shop for a self-centered person to return to the spiritual realm.

Missing the real spiritual world

This is why many imagine heaven as a nice place - but absent of God. Michelangelo painted heaven as a place where people sat around playing harps and such - while God sort of floated above them. Others have imagined a place where people are relaxing in lawn chairs sipping lemonade.

Both of these mistaken depictions of the spiritual realm miss the reality: That in the spiritual realm, the Supreme Being is the center. It is a place where everyone is participating in a particular loving relationship with God, and their lives are focused upon pleasing God and His companions. There is much activity surrounding these relationships.

We are originally from this spiritual world, and we each have a unique relationship with God. Our spiritual identity has nothing to do with the physical bodies we temporarily wear. These physical bodies last for a few decades and then they collapse. After that, they simply decompose. Our spiritual selves move on.

What does the cup mean?

The word "cup" is translated from the Greek word ποτήριον (potērion) meaning "cup" or "drinking vessel." This is its literal meaning. According to the lexicon, when ποτήριον is used metaphorically, it means, "one's lot or experience, whether joyous or adverse, divine appointments, whether favorable or unfavorable."

The “cup” that Jesus is referring to is his service to God and the forthcoming sacrifices that Jesus must make in his service to please the Supreme Being. Jesus illustrated this in a prayer that preceded his arrest:
“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Notice that Jesus uses the metaphor of the cup in his prayer as well. Jesus is the pure lover of God, and he wanted to make sure his actions were pleasing to his Beloved.

Thus when the woman asked that his sons get to return to the spiritual realm, Jesus is indicating the extent of the commitment necessary to do this: To dedicate one's life to pleasing the Supreme Being.

This means having a change of heart. It requires significant effort and focus, and gradual progress, and then a complete commitment. It requires a complete change of consciousness - from self-centeredness to becoming God-centered.

This does not come easily. It is not a matter of just going to church on Sundays and proclaiming we are saved. To 'graduate' back to the spiritual world, we have to make a complete change in direction and focus, where we seek to please the Supreme Being rather than seeking to please ourselves.

In this state, and in this state only, we may return home to the spiritual world and resume our loving relationship with God. It is a matter of loving service. This is why Jesus also said:
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)