WEEK TWO, DAY TWO, COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE COMPANION
WEEK TWO THEME: PRAYER
DAY TWO THEME: THE GOD OF PRAYER
SCRIPTURE: MATTHEW 26:36-46
SCRIPTURE SNIPPET: “Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethesemane. He said to the disciples, ‘Stay here while I go and pray over there.’ When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.’
PONDERINGS: Jesus is now at “that” moment. That moment when all has been done leading up to “that thing” that now must be done. Many times it is an exciting thing like a trip or event that has been on the books for a long time, but before I can get in the car there are lots of things that must be checked off my list to be free to go and enjoy. Jesus’ task at hand is a very difficult one and He has spent these last three years checking things off the list and now the event is here.
He and his disciples have journeyed to the place call Gethsemane. He leaves all but three of the disciples to “go and pray over there”. Peter, James and John accompanied him a bit further and Jesus became “sad and anxious” saying, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying”. I have never thought of Jesus dealing with these emotions together like this – personally, individually. He is with a group of people that he loves and trusts. They have spent three years together in an amazing journey. They have left their previous lives and occupations for this focused time with Jesus and learning first hand what Jesus does and how Jesus does. They are with him here, but I don’t think they realize the intensity of this very moment.
Jesus tries to convey to Peter, James and John his feelings, but they too seem aloof to what he is struggling with. Maybe they have just become accustomed to letting Jesus handle all the heavy stuff and just toodling along on the journey. Jesus asks Peter, James and John to “keep alert with me”. It’s after dinner here and their tummies are full and there had been wine – I guess it is the usual time to let down and give in to a time of sleep. But Jesus’ request of them is to keep alert. He has told them he is sad as if he’s dying. I can’t help but wonder why they didn’t get more involved with Jesus. Jesus often went off alone to pray – were they just allowing him his space to do his thing? Jesus did want to go off alone, but he also seemed to want them to be present in the current struggle.
Jesus’ prayer here is famous – …”take this away, however not what I want but what you want”…. The posture of this prayer is Jesus flat down on the ground face first. He calls God “My Father” and speaks his request, “if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me”. If it is possible…but with God, all things are possible. Here is the very Son of God, fully human and fully divine asking for a change of plans. Did he know all along that his earthly journey would end in crucifixion – is that horrible death what has his attention now? Is Jesus unsure about leaving at this point – uncertain that the disciples can carry forward what they have experienced? Has Jesus developed a fondness for this human life and is not sure he wants to leave? Is it all of the above and so much more.
The most important thing to me right here is Jesus’ emotions of sadness and anxiety. This fully human experience that so many people experience every day. I know of all my own experiences with the mixture of these two emotions. I know how overwhelming and physically demanding they are – how paralyzing they are. I don’t know if they always go hand in hand, but they can really pack a mean punch in one’s life. When diagnosed with cancer they certainly lurched in on me immediately with full force – suddenly in my mind I was bald and weak and pale and fragile and the next step of course was dead and buried. In a split second – without any information of treatment or statistics or anything – my mind had made the leap to the grave and the awareness of all the things I would miss out on. Yes! Sadness and anxiety are not fair players in life. They don’t allow you to see beyond the moment, to think of possiblities, to let God work.
Jesus’ biggest concern here might have been that moment on the cross when God could no longer look at him as he became our sin. That moment when Jesus’ sacrifice would be complete for all of humanity – when all of the sins of humanity were on him – when our sin separated him from God. Maybe any and all of these were just too much for Jesus in the moment and dealing with these emotions in prayer was essential for him to be able to take the next steps on the journey. Jesus’ example to us in this excruciating time of prayer – personal prayer with God the Father is clear. When we are at our weakest moment of our journey – maybe one of many – our only response is prayer. Including others is valuable personally, but they are only able to a point to help us with our struggle. The real battle is individual and must be done in personal real prayer where our whole hearts are exposed, our true request is spoken, and our resolve to let God continue to guide – even here – is the final release.
Jesus trusted God with his vulnerablitiy. He didn’t concern himself with any judgment or weakness – he clearly spoke what he was feeling and trusted God for the answer. Historically, I know that this “cup” did not pass for Jesus, but I also know that when the betrayer showed up, he was ready for the rest of journey and he didn’t look back. God can do that – he can replace despair with confidence. He can change the path, but if not he can provide surety with each step further along the way.
Maybe misery just loves company as they say, but it is comforting to me to realize that I am not apart from God when I am filled with anxiety and sadness or both – He is right there with me, listening to my prayers and giving me all that I need to walk again from my paralysis. Thank you Jesus for showing me such strength!