This is the third and final post in a series of meditations on Gethsemane. In the first post, we looked briefly at the humanity of the disciples. In the second, we began to appreciate the humanity of Jesus.
The gospels give us a fully rounded portrait of our Savior, as one who can sleep soundly on a storm-tossed boat, get angry at injustice, and experience deep emotional and spiritual bewilderment over the horror of his own mission.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I read the gospels in a way that downplays or even ignores the fact that Jesus was fully human. For example, even though I know better, when I read the temptation narrative in Matthew 4, part of me still thinks, “But he was God. It was different for him.”
The Bible teaches differently: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin (Heb 4:15, NIV).” This indeed is the crux of the matter: if it’s not the case that Jesus, in his humanity, could experience temptation as we do, and do so without sin, then what hope do we have? Of what use would the gift of the Holy Spirit be to us?
That’s one reason why the story of Gethsemane is so important to our discipleship.
Jesus leaves Peter, James, and John, and going a short distance away, throws himself prostrate on the ground. One can only imagine the depth of emotion with which he pours out his words:
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. (Matt 26:39, NIV)
This is probably not the whole of what Jesus said, since he may have been at prayer for an entire hour (Matt 26:40). But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agree in the essentials. First, Jesus addresses his beloved Father with tenderness. Second, in his anguish he importunes the Father to see if there is any other way to accomplish the mission. And third, even as he lets his own desires be known, he makes it clear that the Father’s will comes first.
Jesus gets up from the ground and goes back to the disciples, who are fast asleep. He reproves them, gently, I think: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41, NIV). Then he leaves them once again and returns to prayer:
My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done. (Matt 26:42, NIV)
There is movement in the second prayer, as if Jesus has already received his answer from the Father: No, my Son, it is not possible; there is no other way. The wrath of a holy God against sin must be poured out, and Jesus must drink it.
And Jesus responds: Amen, so be it. May your will be done.
As a human being, Jesus would represent us on the cross. Here, again, is the prophecy of Isaiah:
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isa 53:4-6, NIV)
But one thing I want to remember from this story is that Jesus had already represented us in Gethsemane.
We can pour out our anguished hearts to God. We can beg him to smooth out our path. Sometimes, the answer will be yes, and we will rejoice in the goodness of a loving Father. But sometimes the answer will be no. And we know that it’s possible to receive that answer, even in our anguish, and to submit ourselves to the will of God without falling into the temptation of believing that he no longer loves us.
We know this because of Gethsemane, where Jesus showed us what is possible for humanity, for a people of a willing spirit but weak flesh. In the darkness, prostrate and distraught, Jesus showed us that it is still possible to pray as he taught us: Our Father…Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Amen. So be it.