Gethsemane and the Dilemma of Prayer 3

[Number 3 of 6 reflections on Mark 14:32-42]

But back to Jesus.

The second half of his prayer is the second of our choices. ‘Not my will but yours’. This is more active. This issue cannot be removed from me, it must be faced in obedience, however difficult a choice that may appear.

I’m reminded of Abraham Heschel’s famous account of the civil rights march he participated in when he described the experience as being as if his legs were praying. The very act of marching for civil rights was an act of prayer. There was no need to call a prayer meeting to find out what to do. As the prophet says, God ahs shown you what is good, loving mercy, acting justly and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). In that case it would have been wrong, perhaps, had Heschel called a prayer meeting to intercede with God to grant civil rights, rather than march in solidarity for them.

Prayer here is the fitting of our will to God’s and this cannot be accomplished solely by private performance of prayer, but must also be practiced on the road.

It is perhaps also noteworthy that even with Jesus this was not accomplished in a once-off event. Three times he wrestled with God on these matters, perhaps reaching the same conclusion each time, ‘not my will but yours’ only to be discouraged and disheartened by the inability of the disciples to follow simple instructions (Mark 14:37-41) and keep watch.

It is this aspect of Jesus’ practice of prayer in Gethsemane which most comforts me I think. Despite our temptation to spiritualise this event, making it almost like a visual aid, Jesus is so human here—I can think of no better way to say it. This is a real struggle with despair, not a man going through a rote activity because he is teaching us some obscure pattern to follow.

He wrestles, repeatedly, with the same desire to avoid his calling. ‘Take this cup from me’. And the failures of those around him send him back again and again to the same point.

He Qi’s ‘Praying at Gethsemane’ here

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