October 14, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 22:39-46.
Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. When he arrived at the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” After withdrawing about a stone’s throw away from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” [And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.] When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test.”
According to the New American Bible the verses in brackets do not appear in the oldest manuscripts of Luke’s gospel and many scholars believe that they were added at a later date by an unknown writer. To me it seems a diminishment of Jesus’ willingness to do his Father’s will. So, I’m going to overlook them.
Luke’s account of this scene is much different than Mark’s and Matthew’s. Those gospels emphasize the fear and sorrow that Jesus was experiencing and repeated pleas to have the cup pass from him. As Luke Timothy Johnson puts it in The Gospel of Luke, Jesus prayed to God “bringing his mind and will into line with that of the Father, releasing his deep desire to live and avoid suffering, and accepting what has been determined for him.” Luke “portrays Jesus as engaging in the most fundamental sort of struggle for the human will. Like Jacob wrestling all night with the angel, Jesus ‘enters the struggle’ against the power of darkness, and in his prayer, accepts his destiny.”
Jesus was a man with feelings including fear and grief. That’s why I can identify with him and have a relationship with him, because he experienced what I do and can understand the emotional turmoil I go through. However, he’s different from all the rest of us because he always sought to know and fulfill his Fathers’ will. He may have done it with resignation in the garden that night, with a heavy heart. The point is he remained faithful to God and to His will.
It’s significant to me that Luke has Jesus telling his disciples to pray, not to stand watch with him as Mark and Matthew told the story. He tells them twice to pray, to pray that they not undergo the test. It recalls how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “And do not subject us to the final test.” The test. What is the test? I don’t think it is just one test, I am tested over and over again. The test is whether to submit to God’s will or to succumb to the temptation to indulge me own will when it is against God’s. Jesus knows that I am weak in the face of these temptations, just as he knew his disciples were because we are human. Because he loves me, he would like to spare me this agony, this struggle. It’s not that he wants to remove the temptations; they will always arise. He wants me to pray, to be in conversation and relationship with God. As Sanford writes in The Kingdom Within, “Prayer…opens up the way for the individual to reach the kingdom of God.” That’s what Jesus wants for me, the kingdom. “Not my will but Your will” is the entry to the kingdom.