Saturday, June 03, 2006

Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane

It seems as though Jesus' prayers in Gethsemane are often (usually?) taken to be prayers that illustrate Jesus' human weakness: he doesn't want to undergo the trial of the cross, so he asks God the father to remove the cup of judgment.

If I'm correct in how I understand the usual interpretation, then it seems to me that the view has several problems. First, it requires that Jesus ask something contrary to the Father's will (because, in this reading, God the Father says "no" to Jesus request to be spared the cross). But that's a problem, because Jesus claims that "I always do the things that are pleasing to him [the Father]" (Jn 8.29, see also 14.10, 14.24, 8.28 & etc.).

Secondly, when Peter wishes mercy on Jesus after Jesus tells the disciples of his forthcoming death in Jerusalem (Mt 16.22 Gk), Jesus rebukes Petersaying, "Get behind me, Satan!" (v.23) But on the usual reading of Jesus' prayers in Gethsemane, Jesus is asking the Father exactly for the mercy that Peter had wished for Jesus -- to be spared the cross -- and for which Peter earned the stinging rebuke from Jesus.

Third, and relatedly, Heb 12.2 suggests that going to the cross was a settled expectation on Jesus' part. That's why he came, after all.

Now, to be sure, it's not a far stretch to imagine that Jesus is asking the Father, if possible, to accomplish redemption some other way than in killing and cursing him. (I can easily me imagine weeping and asking God to spare me from that trial if I were in Jesus' place.) I suspect it's the ease of imagining that which makes the usual view (if it is the usual view) so, well, usual. Still, for the reasons above, I'm not entirely satisfied with it.

But here's an alternative hypothesis to the usual reading of Jesus' prayers in Gethsemane: When he prays "My father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will," (Mt 26.39) Jesus is not praying to be spared the cross, but is praying for resurrection -- i.e., that the cup pass away; that he not drink of God's wrath forever. (But even then Jesus leaves it to the Father's will, "yet not as I will, but as you will" (id.). Jesus is willing to suffer eternal judgment to save the lost, if it is the Father's will (compare Ro 9.3).

This hypothesis is strengthened by the way Jesus phrases his second prayer, "My father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, your will be done" (Mt 26.42). Note here, the "pass away" cannot at all refer to the cup being taken away without Jesus drinking of the cup at all. Jesus specifically stipulates that the "passing away" would occur only after he drinks it. Well, since Jesus cannot both drink of the cup and not drink the of the cup, then the "passing away" in v. 39 can quite conceivably be a request for the same thing -- that the cup of judgment "pass away" only after Jesus drinks of it.

If this hypothesis is correct, then God the Father answers Jesus prayer in v. 39 in the affirmative: Yes, Son, the cup of judgment will pass after you drink it; I will resurrect you from the dead; you will not be left under judgment eternally.

But if that is the case, then what is Jesus requesting in his second (and third) prayer? It is a confession rather than a petition: "My father, since this [cup] cannot pass away unless I drink it, your will be done" (v. 42).

The prayer doesn't make sense, however, if its content is the same as that of the first prayer: "If I cannot be resurrected unless I drink the cup of judgment, then your will be done." Well, of course Jesus cannot be brought to life again if he does not die in the first place."

Rather, it might be argued that Jesus is referring to the cup of judgment in general: "Father, since this [cup of judgment] cannot pass away [from humanity] unless I drink it, your will be done." This, then, is a prayer of mission and confidence.

In this reading, Jesus is not praying in Gethsemane to escape the cross, he instead asks for resurrection after the cross -- for salvation from the judgment of the cross -- and expresses his willingness to undergo the trial set before him, even if the Father does not save him from eternal judgment.

2 Comments:

Blogger The Presbyteer said...

This reading has its problems, too. 1) All those times Jesus sang Psalm 16 "you will not allow your holy one to see decay" -- didn't that "teach" him somehow that he could count on the Father to raise him from the dead? So as the model of perfect human Faith/fulness, would Jesus have doubted his own resurrection? and 2) The eternal Son trusted himself absolutely to the Father, knowing that the Father loved him and was giving all things to him, and that he would redeem the creation and deliver it up to the Father -- seems like he would have to forget a big chunk of what the whole idea of everything was in order to have this kind of question about his own resurrection.

Just a couple of initial thoughts.

June 15, 2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

The first comment award goes to . . . the Presbyteer!

You'll receive your boxed set of authentic simulated china in four to six weeks. (Handling and shipping charges due upon receipt.)

On the substantive point: "You do not have because you do not ask." Jesus prayed for resurrection in faith because of Ps 16, not in spite of it.

I'm not sure I buy the hypothesis either. Still, I think it's interesting that I always read the first "pass away" as a prayer that God would take away the cup without Jesus drinking it, when the second "pass away" expressly applies the phrase to a post-drinking event.

June 19, 2006 8:27 AM  

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