An Insignificant Detail
I have often heard people say that the wonderful thing about reading Scripture is that every time you read it, there is something new to discover. This is because when we read the Scriptures over and over, details, which before we overlooked, or which seemed unimportant, somehow jump out and grab out attention. One good example of this is the story of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. This is a story where the vulnerability of Jesus is clearly evident, a picture of Jesus that we did not see up to this point. Before the garden scene, we see the strength of Jesus, defeating the demons, quieting the storms, standing up to the religious leaders and their misunderstandings of God’s ways. Yet, in the garden, Jesus is vulnerable, even afraid. So, we ask ourselves, “What is it that scares Jesus?” Our first thought is death. He didn’t want to face death, especially, death on the cross.
We understand that fear. Even though we know that in Jesus we will have life beyond the grave, we still don’t want to face death. We don’t know what it is going to be like; but, nevertheless, we don’t want to face it. We have even expressed this in our prayer to God, saying to God that when we die, we don’t want to know that it is happening. We want it to be so quick that we won’t even know until it is passed, and we are safely on the other side. So, we understand that fear.
So, we have read this passage in the past, and assumed that when Jesus prayed, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” he was simply praying that he not have to face death. Yet, we read the story again; and, we cannot help but think that there must be something more, that even though the fear of death is understandable, it didn’t seem to be an adequate explanation for Jesus’ prayer. That’s when we notice a small detail, the cup, a detail so easily overlooked. What did it mean that Jesus used that word in his prayer? What was the cup from which Jesus did not want to drink?
It turns out that the “cup” is a symbol that is found in other portions of the Scriptures. For example, in Isaiah we read, “Stand up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk at the hand of the Lord, the cup of his wrath. In Jeremiah we read, “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath.” These passages add new meaning to Jesus’ prayer. It wasn’t just death that Jesus was going to face. It was the wrath of God. Jesus asks that the cup of God wrath be allowed to pass. In other words, Jesus does not want to face God’s wrath; and, who could blame him. We can only imagine that the wrath of God would be a fate worse than death. The irony is that Jesus isn’t supposed to face God’s wrath.
The wrath of God is reserved for sinners. It is reserved for us. Jesus however, was not a sinner. He was obedient to the Father in everything that he did. So, in order to stay obedient to the Father, Jesus has to pay the price for disobedience, our disobedience. Therein lies the struggle that we see in Jesus’ prayer. He wants to be obedient to the Father; yet, at the same time, he does not want to face the Father’s wrath. Three times, Jesus goes to God in prayer. Three times he asks for the cup to be taken away. Three times Jesus was told, “No!” The wrath of God would not be taken away. In the end, for our sakes, Jesus chose obedience to the Father. “Not as I will, but thou wilt,” Jesus prayed. He would face the wrath of God for us, so that we do not have to.
It is a small detail, the cup. Yet, it is a detail, that when better understood, adds much more to the meaning of the passage. It is a detail that also offers even more reason to give thanks to God the Father, through Jesus the Son. Therefore, as we bask in the celebration of Easter, may we not forget to give thanks for the reconciliation that we have with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.