Saturday, October 24, 2009

Luke 22.39-46

This passage recounts our Lord’s agony in the garden. Having left his disciples in the garden with instructions to pray, he has moved away from them to speak with his Father. He returns at one point to find the disciples sleeping rather than praying, and he urges them to pray that they not fall into temptation. His own prayer takes the form of pleading, of searching, that there could be found some way that he would not need to endure the crucifixion. His last comment on the topic though, is that it should be the Father’s will that takes precedence rather than his own.

There are two aspects of this passage which are instructive for us. The first is Jesus’ agony over the Father’s will. It is clear that Jesus does not want to go through being scourged and killed, and he is in agony or distress over his immediate future. Despite having come to this world knowing this was intended, despite sharing in the divine essence and will, despite knowing he would return to the Father, Jesus asks that the plan as it now appeared could be changed. Even in the midst of his inner turmoil, Jesus places his will – his desires – his fears, to the will of his Father.

In some aspects, this reminds us of David’s all night vigils for Bathsheba’s son. In sackcloth and ashes, emptying his emotional and physical reserves, David begs that God’s mercy would prevail and the child would live. After the child dies, David brushes off the dirt from the floor, gets up, takes a bath, and gets on with his life. David had an intense desire to have that cup removed from him, but accepted the judgment of God when it came.

In this passage, Jesus behaves similarly. As long as there was some chance of changing the plan, he would pray and seek the face of God, but when the answer came, he submitted himself to what the Father wanted. This is instructive for us as followers of God. We are called primarily to submit ourselves to the will of God, even if that takes us through agony and seeming abandonment. Scripture intimates unbounded blessing for God’s followers and many people attract masses of followers offering the riches of God in exchange for faithful performance. It is almost as if Scripture has somehow lost touch with reality in a fallen world. We seem to have erased those parts of Scripture that just as forcefully intimate hardship not just because we are human, but because of the faith we proclaim.

If we are to minister to people who subsist in garbage dumps, we (well, someone) are going to have to wade into the dump. If we are going to care for people who have been abused and abandoned, we are going to have to take the risk of being insulted and challenged. If we are going to run an AIDS shelter – or an H1N1 clinic, we will need to accept the risk inherent in those actions. If we are going to live and love in this world, there are risks of doing so. People around us need caring human interaction. Jesus touched those who were hurting and those who had physical illnesses. If we are going to touch them, we have to be with them.

In some cases (although not nearly as often as we might expect), aid workers contract various illnesses, suffer their ravages, and die. Sometimes people who reach out to others are killed by those they seek to help.

In other cases, God-followers seem to fall victim to the vagaries of life. Some contract rapid moving cancers, some are shot by home invaders, some are killed by drunk drivers, some mothers lose children before they are born and some parents lose children after enjoying them for what seems an all too short life. These instances engender questions of why, of the goodness of God, of all the trite promises we express and receive about the blessings of God. How can these things be if God loves us?

It is at precisely this point that our commitment to the will of God is tested most fully. The problem we often have is that we confuse the expectation. Just as Jesus did not want to endure the cross, we are not expected to simply brush off the tragedies of life as though we are unbothered by them, as though we do not have an investment in others, as though we do not care about this life. The key to learning from the passion of our savior is not the specific will of God in any case, but Jesus’ and our willingness to trust God through the hurt, shock, denial, and wondering of whatever we endure. We need not wear fake smiles, throw parties in the midst of loss, or pretend as though everything that happens is alright with us. Jesus did not so act and we are not expected to either.
...to be continued......

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