|The Garden of Gethsemane, Photo by Rich Simpson, 2010|
Read Matthew 26:36-56.
"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
Has there ever been a more poignant prayer than this one? In Luke's telling of the temptation by Satan in the wilderness, he concludes after Jesus successfully resists three temptations that the Tempter left Jesus "until an opportune time." Matthew does not have that phrase, but it seems that if he did, this is as opportune a time as it gets. The disciples are exhausted - too exhausted to keep their eyes open, even. Jesus is beginning to feel grieved and agitated.
In my own experience, this is when I am most susceptible to ego needs - when I'm feeling "grieved and agitated." So if we agree with the claims of Chalcedon and the full humanity of Jesus, then the temptation expressed in this prayer must have been a real one for him.
Years ago I went to see the film, The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Martin Scorsese. There was a lot of hoopla around the film and a lot of protests coming from Roman Catholic and evangelical circles at the time. But I went to see the film and personally found it to be very orthodox - the controversial scenes are clearly presented as a temptation which Jesus clearly rejects. As per usual, the focus at the time was on the sex scenes - but the real temptation was not sex but a "normal" life with Mary Magdalene. (I should point out that I saw this film in the theater in 1988 and have not seen it since then; so I'm relying here on a 26 year old memory. I did read Nikos Kazantzakis' book upon which the screenplay was based, shortly after and it was even better, as I recall - and also I might be mixing up what was in the film and what was in the book!)
But the point is that behind this prayer, maybe first and foremost, is this final temptation which at some level had to have been something like "why can't I just go back to Nazareth and get married and raise a family and make a modest living as a carpenter?" Why this?
...not my will, but thine be done. A hard prayer to pray, but the one that never fails. Our temptations will not be the same as Jesus's. At best we are working toward full humanity, without the challenges of full divinity. We are working toward being, not Jesus, but the unique person God has created us to be. And one modern paraphrase from John Wesley's Covenant Renewal Service put it, God has given us many tasks to do...
...some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interest, others are contrary to both.While our calling may not be to die on a cross, we have heard Jesus say again and again on this journey that to follow him we need to take up our own cross. Some moments in our own journeys will bring us to our own gardens where the thing that lies ahead is difficult. It is such moments that truly test our commitment to the resurrection and our trust in God.