Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.
According to Luke, these are the words Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives just moments before his betrayal. Puzzling, aren’t they? Was Jesus afraid? Apparently so, as Luke continues:
“In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.”
So, Jesus was scared of the impending trial and its likely outcome – punishment by death. I know that fear to a lesser degree. But I’m human and Jesus is the Messiah. Superheroes aren’t supposed to be fearful, are they? How can we explain this paradox? Some scholars are convinced that Luke’s statement in vs. 43-44 is not authentic; that’s why it is placed in parentheses in most bible translations.
Others suggest that the term “anguish” should not be understood as “fearful.” New Testament scholar Sharon Ringe, for instance, explains “anguish” from the realm of athletics: Jesus was “sweating” from mentally preparing for what was coming.*
But the fact that Jesus asked for “the removal of the cup” suggests that he was fearful indeed. And that’s OK – inspiring actually! It makes Christianity more relate- able. It encourages us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ ministry of peace and justice.
As we follow our conscience and take a stand, it’s natural to experience confrontation and even fear. If we do, we’re in good company with Jesus.
Our fear does not express weakness. There is nothing shameful about expressing our fear in prayer; God gets it. And finally, it’s OK to boldly ask God to save us.**
Jesus did, and though his request wasn’t granted, he received the courage needed for the greatest Act of Love in history. Be encouraged, stand up for justice even when facing threats. It’s not easy, but Jesus shows the path from fear to earnest prayer to the guts it takes to change this world.
*Sharon H. Ringe: Luke, Westminster John Knox Press; 1st edition (November 1, 1995) p. 266
**Luke, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Gospels: Feasting on the Word Commentary, edited by Cynthia
A. Jarvis, E. Elizabeth Johnson, Westminster John Knox Press (November 19, 2014), p. 292
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