They went to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and I love this little detail about how the disciples are so tired that they fall asleep. One of the problems with reading small bits of scripture in worship is that we fail to pay attention to what happens immediately before a particular narrative. Now I know that we here are all good United Methodists, and therefore we would not know what it was like to stay up all night drinking wine with our Lord. But I can imagine that they must have been very tired after that celebration. After all this was to be Jesus’ last evening with his closest friends and companions. They shared wine and bread together and eventually made their way to the garden.
Upon arrival Jesus begged his disciples to keep awake with him. But they didn’t. So Jesus went off to the side, threw himself on the ground, and cried out to God, “For you all things are possible, remove this cup from me, don’t let me die tomorrow. But in the end it’s not about what I want, its about what you want.” Thats the story of Jesus in the garden.
I graduated from Duke last May, I haven’t even been in the ministry for an entire year. But while I was at Duke, I took a class on the Greek Exegesis of the Gospel according to Mark. My professor, Joel Marcus, knows more about the gospel of Mark than Mark knew about Mark. Throughout the course of the semester we translated the entire gospel from Greek into English, we would dissect every verse looking at the grammar and discussed the depth of the Word of God.
On one such occasion we found ourselves translating the story of Jesus in the garden. We discussed certain grammatical options when my professor finally asked a question, (He could never remember my name, Taylor, so instead he often called me Tinker) “Tinker, why does Jesus pray for the cup to be passed from him. This is a very troubling verse. On the eve of his execution he calls out to God to save him from death. So, Tinker, why does Jesus pray for the cup to pass from him?”
One of the saddest things about seminary is that everything became a competition; I tried to explain why Jesus prayed this, “Im sure he knew what he was doing, he prayed this for our benefit in the future, so that we would know about prayer.” “No Tinker,” one of my peers interrupted, “Jesus did this to help us recall the Psalmists words of prayer to be delivered from the pit, Jesus wanted us to understand his command over the Old Testament Scriptures…” This went on and on. We showed off in front of our professor explaining and rationalizing why Jesus said what he said. Our answers got better and better, we began to yell at one another across the room when all of the sudden my professor slammed his hands on the table. He said, “I am so sick and tired of hearing young seminarians like you, try to explain away what Jesus said. This verse in Mark is one of my favorites. Do you know why? Because in this scripture Jesus is just like me.” Then it was silent. Though we still had thirty minutes left in class, my professor packed his belongings and walked out of the room.
For days it was all I could think about, and even now I think about it all the time. That in the garden, in this precious moment we have recorded, we see Jesus just like us. You can bet that if I was in the garden and I knew what was going to happen to me I would’ve shouted out, “Please God don’t let it happen!” If I found myself hanging on the cross I would’ve shouted out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus is just like me.
If Jesus was to restart his ministry today in Staunton, VA He would not walk up and down Beverley St. with a three piece pinstripe suit and italian leather shoes. He would be wearing worn out Carhartts, dirty and used. He would be wearing a plaid shirt and hiking boots. He would walk up and down our streets seeking out the last and the least and the lost. Jesus is just like you.
We don’t come to worship to pretend to be someone we’re not. We come together just like this to learn exactly who we are and whose we are. We are just like Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane.
But at the same time, Jesus is completely unlike me. My prayer would have stopped with, “God take this cup from me.” But thats not where Jesus’ prayer ended. Jesus continued on to say, “not what I want, but what you want.” For as many ways as Jesus can be just like us, he is completely unlike us because he knew the Father’s will and marched up to the top Calvary to hang and die on a cross for you and me.
So I wonder; what are your prayers like? Are they like mine: O God please deliver me from this and that… Or are your prayers like Jesus’? “God I know I’m in a tough spot right now, I know that you can fix me and heal me, you can make my son or daughter well, but, in the end its not about what I want, its about what you want.” You know that great part of the Lord’s prayer? Thy Will Be Done. Many of us say it everyday. Do we really want God’s will?
Its not about what I want, its about what you want.