I am reflecting on the events of the last days of Jesus’ ministry as presented by David Seccombe in his The King of God’s Kingdom.
The synoptic gospels describe the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Many have noticed the contrast between Jesus and, say, Socrates. When compelled to drink the hemlock, Socrates accepted his fate philosophically. He died what would have been a model death for a Greek philosopher. Jesus crying out against his fate probably was a small part of what made Jesus a scandal to the Greek way of thinking.
Yet the struggle of Jesus seems like that of a real human being in the thick of existence, not a philosopher above the fray.
Seccombe says the words Mark uses for how Jesus felt (KJV: “sore amazed and very heavy” Mark 14:33) describe intense emotion and something more than the natural grief you would expect him to feel about what lay ahead. Jesus saw something more in his approaching death than his personal demise. Seccombe recalls how on the way to the cross Jesus said to the women who wept for him that they should not weep for him but for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28). So part of his pain may stem from his prophetic anticipation of the Jewish War and the coming plight of the people of Jerusalem.
But there was plenty of reason to weep for himself as well: the betrayal of one of his disciples, the indifference of others who slept while he agonized, the whole back-handed conspiracy against him that was about to come to a culmination. One wonders if he foresaw the actual way things would go. Did he know he would not be stoned, but crucified, for instance?
He cried out against it all. He prayed that he might somehow avoid this conclusion to his ministry, that God would take this “cup” away.
I always find it interesting that the Letter to the Hebrews says:
During his earthly life Christ offered both requests and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard because of his devotion (Hebrews 5:7 NET Bible).
He was heard?!!
Hebrews is clearly seeing this from the point of view of the resurrection. But for spiritual and devotional purposes during Lent we should probably not jump ahead too quickly.
Seccombe is clear that we should not think of the agony of Jesus as just “a piece of theatre”. Jesus could have chosen to answer his own prayer and slip out of Jerusalem. The agony in the garden was a facing of the temptation to turn away from his mission and calling.
One thinks of Paul saying in Philippians 2 that Jesus did not grasp at equality with God, but became obedient to the point of death.
He saw the worst and felt the pull of life as strongly as anyone ever felt it, and yet chose to go with God (p. 535).