“. . . take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Jesus’s prayer life was different from ours. Jesus lived prayer. Like breathing, he prayed.
When his disciples nudged Jesus to eat after a long day of ministry, he responded, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” (John 4:32). His prayer focus would match this idea of Richard Rohr, “Prayer is not ‘one of the ten thousand things.’ It’s that by which we see the ten thousand things.”
Jesus’ Garden Prayer
How utterly consistent then that deep in the darkest night of his life, Jesus crumpled in agonized prayer over the torture set before him. As he prepared for the greatest battle ever to be fought, he called out to his Father for help, wielding the weapon of a single, two-edged sentence.
My heart twists as I imagine the setting. It’s the wee hours of the morning—maybe 1 a.m.—after a long day of Passover celebration and summary teachings offered over the meal. Judas, the betrayer, slinks away to do his deed. The remaining Eleven trudge with Jesus from the upper room, east through Jerusalem and outside the walls, and across the Kidron Valley to their destination: Gethsemane.
Gethsemane is a spot familiar to the disciples (Luke 22:39), as Jesus often took them there for private conversation and teaching (John 18:2).
Jesus asks his followers to follow, to watch and to pray against the temptation of not following. But the disciples swoon under the weight of a busy week. Their eyelids dip and they doze. Weak and without the strength of understanding, their well-meaning spirits slip.
Still imagining the scene, I observe Jesus kneeling, face focused upward, the moon’s reflection spotlighting his sincerity.
I focus on Jesus, the man-God. He no longer kneels in haloed holiness but buckles to the dirt, cheek smeared with mud, nose grazed against the cold of a stone, fingernails tearing at the soil, body recoiling into the fetal shape he once occupied within the womb of a woman.
And here, pressed down in a garden, Jesus lifts the prayer coin: “Take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
I wonder, Have I ever settled in on this part of the story? This three-hour window referred to as “the sanctuary of the sorrow of Jesus’ soul.” Have I deeply considered the torturous tug-of-war that led to his eventual sacrifice for me?
Have I entered into Jesus’s garden prayer?
Jesus’s Two-Sided Prayer
Two opposite pleas pierce Jesus’s final pre-crucifixion night before the Father. On the one hand, he leans human. On the other, he surrenders divine. That he does both at once is stunning. That there is a record of his doing so—for us to witness and, maybe, model—leaves me tongue-tied.
How did Jesus pray both sides of prayer? How could he say both “no” and “yes” in a single supplication? Such a braided duality! Take This Cup. Not My Will. And why would he? Fully God, why would he need to request the removal of something he knew he would ultimately triumph over?
Mashed together in Jesus’s two-sided request are two opposite prayers. One is a vulnerable plea to avoid the suffering of the cross, made to the Sovereign One who controls all things. The second prayer is an understanding that Jesus’ ultimate purpose on earth was to provide a way out of our predicament of sin.
Jesus prayed both sides of the prayer coin. Honest and abandon.
Jesus invites participation in his prayer. As he pours out his heart to the Father, he taps his disciples to accompany him. To keep watch with him. Eventually, to pray for themselves against the temptation they would face. To listen to him as he prays the most anguished prayer of his days on earth. Take This Cup. Not My Will. Jesus invited his disciples then . . . and perhaps he invites his disciples now.
In the garden, Jesus’s wording is specific: “Sit here while I go over there and pray” (Matthew 26:36), or, “Sit here while I pray” (Mark 14:32). His request is simple: “Be with me while I pray.”
That’s it. Just show up and be present. To eyewitness his honest and his abandon. To observe and absorb his two-sided prayer. Take This Cup. Not My Will.
Luke reports that at some point Jesus withdraws further, “about a stone’s throw” (Luke 22:41), several yards beyond the disciples. Death is truly a solitary journey. Jesus’s isolated death made it possible for God to go with us in ours. Because he was alone, we never will be.
Three times Jesus asks his disciples to join him—because he needs them here for himself and because he needs them here for themselves. And three times, the disciples disappoint. His response includes understanding of and compassion for their human ordeal of bodily and spiritual exhaustion (Matthew 26:41–43; Mark 14:37–41; Luke 22:45–46) as well as a level of exasperation (Matthew 26:40). Could they not have stayed awake just one hour? They have no response (Mark 14:40).
Jesus invited his disciples then . . . and he invites his disciples now. You and I are invited to participate.
My prayer antennae twitch at the thought. Perhaps here is a two-sided practice that speaks solutions into our prayer problems—both for those of us experienced in prayer yet still wanting more and for those of us unacquainted with the practice at all. Here is a model for our personal decision-making moments. An everyday tool for the forging of an unbroken relationship with the God who made us to be one with him.
Study: Describe Jesus’ invitation to his first-century followers recorded in Matthew 26:37-38 and Mark 14:33-34. What was he inviting them to do?
Reflect: Wrestle with the phrases “take this cup” and “not my will.” They can be paraphrased “what I want” and “what God wants.” Which side are you more apt to pray – honest or abandon? Why?
Practice: How might Jesus’ model of the prayer coin offer solutions for your prayer problems today?