“These unprecedented times...” “Awful year” “Yeah, it’s been weird” “I’m tired.” “This is so hard”. No one even needs me to write an introduction about how unfamiliar this season of life is for everyone. But just so we’re all on the same page: a global pandemic, an overdue nationwide movement for racial justice of black lives, uncertainty of what the fall semester will hold - oh, and those things we all had anyways, like human relationships and finances. So many are experiencing what reaching limits truly looks like. All this chaos makes finals week or recruitment intensity or philanthropy week planning look like spring break in Florida.
Personally, every corner of my life (physical, spiritual, emotional, mental) is exhausted. The exhaustion really boils down to uncertainty: the uncertainty of when - or if - relief will ever come. When the weight of the world is taking over my body but it’s beyond my control, what’s left to do? God where are you?
This passage takes place after the last supper, when Jesus has reminded the disciples one of them will betray him, one will deny him, he will die, and they will all abandon him. Hours later in the dead of night before he is betrayed and killed, this is what takes place.
32 Then they came to a place named Gethsemane, and He told His disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be deeply distressed and horrified. 34 Then He said to them, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow —to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake.” 35 Then He went a little farther, fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. 36 And He said, “Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will.”
37 Then He came and found them sleeping. “Simon, are you sleeping?” He asked Peter. “Couldn’t you stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Once again He went away and prayed, saying the same thing. 40 And He came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open. They did not know what to say to Him. 41 Then He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The time has come. Look, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up; let’s go! See—My betrayer is near.”
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
What patterns do you notice? Of the disciples? Of Jesus?
What emotions are described of Jesus? Thinking back over the last couple of months, which of these feelings can you relate to?
What do you notice about Jesus’ prayers? What are all the things He asks God for?
Why do you think the disciples behave the way they do here?
Have you been telling God your honest emotions and desires in seasons of pain? Why or why not?
Do you relate more to Jesus or the disciples in this passage when you find yourself in distress?
This is not a passage to quickly breeze through. It’s the raw emotions of our distressed Savior - and his heart is HEAVY. For himself, for you and me, for his Father’s will.
Whenever I sit still and go slow with this passage, what shocks my heart and relieves me at the same time is when Jesus says “Take this cup away from me” and prays that “the hour might pass from him”. Yes - Jesus is telling God He would rather not be crucified. I know his next statement is for God’s will above his own, we’ll get there, but first - pause.
We must pause.
Our Jesus was fully human and honest before God in his desperation that he wanted out. He told God he wanted out. Did you know we can tell God that?! I’d always been taught that Jesus willingly went to the cross out of love for me (and he DID) but no one told me he was human enough to tell God how hard that was going to be for him. Worth it in the end yet, still so hard in the process. That one statement of his prayer changed my whole perception of Jesus and unlocked freedom of new conversation avenues with God. Have you been telling God your honest emotions and desires in the pain of this season?
And if you haven’t, why not?
Let’s also look at the disciples. When I can’t find freedom to be like Jesus, I can usually see myself stuck in ways that the disciples often are. Here, they do not understand, and they escape through sleep rather than seek alongside Jesus. They do not understand. They’re tired and they disengage. I believe they had good intentions, but as Jesus says, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Jesus was in extreme visible distress and sorrow, and his closest friends couldn’t stay awake with him to pray.
When I find myself in extreme distress, I’d love to say I turn to prayer just like Jesus. But there’s a strong enough pattern to admit, often in my distress or pain or uncertainty, I’d rather disengage. I’d rather sleep. I’d rather scroll on social media. Now I’m not necessarily suggesting you stay up all night to pray. But I am insisting we engage the circumstances of our lives with God, who is the only possible relief. As helpless and impossible my circumstances seem, how much more do I need to reach to God even if my prayer is “God take this away!” When I share my helpless with God, I merge his presence and the Holy Spirit into my circumstances. Only with the two held in the same space can I begin to desire his will above my own even when I don’t understand. Jesus may have been distressed but he was not uncertain. He may have had deep sorrow but he was not hopeless. He even died for every human he loved, but thanks to God’s Will and mercy, he was raised again. And he promised that same new life to you and me.