Anyone with even a little familiarity with the gospels knows the story of Gethsemane. There, praying to his Father alone while his disciples slept, Jesus faced squarely the suffering and shame that was about to be his — and asked if there might be another way.
There is a sense in which the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, and Luke seems supremely confident and unwavering up until this moment, then shrinks at the supreme horror of the cup of wrath he must drink. It’s a poignant scene through which we can identify with Jesus’ real humanity — a humanity which can know fear and loathing yet still submit to the Father’s will.
John has no story of Gethsemane. But he has a parallel from earlier in the week, as Jesus prays in front of the Passover crowd:
Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—’Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. (John 12:27-28, NRSV)
Does our picture of Jesus have room to imagine him as a troubled soul? If we believe as we should that Jesus was every bit as human as we are, then we have to also allow that the prospect of crucifixion was profoundly disturbing to him.
But that won’t deter him from doing what he came to do.
I have a difficult time wrapping my mind around Jesus’ awareness of his mission. Throughout the gospels, he clearly knows that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. As he teaches and heals, as he laughs and shares meals with his inner circle of twelve, the specter of that sacrifice must never be far from his mind. True, we all live in the shadow of the reality that one day our bodies will give out, and we will die. But what is it like to know that it’s already been ordained that you must give your life willingly, while still in your prime?
Unlike in Gethsemane, Jesus does not seem to be wondering about alternatives to the cross. He knows what he must do, indeed, what he has been trying to tell his disciples all along he must do.
Many think of Jesus as a great religious or ethical teacher — and in some ways that is true, as far as it goes. But his mission was not to build a following of students or disciples. His mission was to die for the world, to be raised again by the Father. All the sermons in the world, all the insistence upon the importance of love, all of it comes to naught without the crucifixion and resurrection.
Jesus knows it.
The disciples? As of yet, not so much.