‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’
Will is a powerful thing. We acknowledge its power when we speak of “the will to live.” To say someone has “lost the will to live” is among the saddest things we can say of another.
The prayer that Jesus prayed on the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, in the hours before his betrayal and arrest, and eventual crucifixion, is a profound declaration of one’s will to live. It is no less a declaration of one’s surrender, of the submission of one’s will to the will of God.
Even as I write that, I feel uneasy. The language of “surrender” and “submission” of my will cuts against the grain of my affirmation of autonomy, of freedom. It feels like a tilt towards a resignation that smacks of fatalism, of a determinism that I resist.
This prayer that Jesus prays in this moment of excruciating struggle is not forged in that moment. It echoes one of the phrases central to the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray whenever they prayed: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done…” That it was included in that model prayer for all our praying strongly suggests that submitting one’s will to the will of God was a common, well practiced habit of being for Jesus.
This was not a prayer reserved for a moment of fox hole desperation. It was a way of life.
Perhaps at the very heart of being human, of embracing the fullness of our humanity, of exercising our will to live, is the surrender our wills to God. Perhaps that is the highest expression of our will to live. Therein lies our true freedom. Only then are we free from the lie that we can ultimately determine the course of our lives. Only then do find what we need, the agency we need, to live redemptively, generatively, creatively, in relation to whatever circumstances we face in the course of our lives.
In the end, in the beginning, and everywhere in between, there is a love, a will, that set us free to live…that frees us even from the fear of death in all its forms..
There is no obvious answer to Jesus’ prayer. Events unfold, the darkness descends, the cup does not pass from him. From below, the facts on the ground indicate no intervention from a loving Father. Quite the opposite as Jesus cries out in utter dereliction, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”
Of course, that is not the end of the story…but it is the crux (cross) of the story that speaks of the will of a God to know our suffering. It speaks of a will to live that will not fail us even in death.
Prayer: Gracious God, today, not my will, but your will be done. Amen.