This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
THUGS BLOCK ACCESS TO BODIES IN UKRAINE
36 Then Jesus came with them to a garden called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples: “Sit down here while I go and pray over there.” 37 Taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to show signs of sadness and deep distress of mind. 38 “I am sad at heart,” he said, “sad even to death; wait here and watch with me.” 39 Going on a little further, he threw himself on his face in prayer. “My Father,” he said, “if it is possible, let me be spared this cup; only, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he came to his disciples, and found them asleep. “What!” he said to Peter, “could none of you watch with me for one hour? 41 Watch and pray so that you don’t fall into temptation. True, the spirit is eager, but human nature is weak.” 42 Again, a second time, he went away, and prayed. “My Father,” he said, “if I cannot be spared this cup, but must drink it, your will be done!” 43 And coming back again he found them asleep, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them, and went away again, and prayed a third time, again saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples, and said: “Sleep on now, and rest yourselves. Look – my time is close at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of wicked people. 46 Up, and let us be going. Look! My betrayer is close at hand.”
The powers of darkness are very evident in this story. Jesus feels the horror of what awaits him; abuse, lies, injustice, torrture and death. For the religious leaders and their Roman overlords these things would have been distasteful but necessary, just as mindless thuggery to dead bodies in Ukraine is to Mr Putin and his henchmen. No one who has not felt it directly should underestimate the horror aroused by those who have given evil an important place in their lives. The weight of this horror also rests on Jesus’ disciples, who are subdued by it into a fearful sleep and fail to “watch and pray” with Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer to God is comforting to all who have faced the power of evil or of terrible suffering. He is no stoic superman, able to maintain an insouciant courage in the face of danger. He feels crushed and wants to escape. And he prays honestly to God, without disguising his reluctance and fear. In fact by this time there was nothing Jesus coud have done to escape his fate. He had brought his message of God’s Rule to his people in word and action, challenging the religious leadership and annoying Rome with the threat of his Messianic authority. Even if he had recanted, he would almost certainly suffered the same penalty. Doubtless the authorities were asking how thse young men had been radicalised.
Jesus’ prayer ends with his readiness to do what God requires. There is a close relationship between this prayer of Jesus and the Lord’s prayer. The Gethsemane prayer gives special meaning to the petition “Do not bring us into hard testing (In modern English, “temptation” gives a wrong meaning),but deliver us from evil”. Of course God does not bring evil or suffering on anyone but neither does He stop it. We know this from experience. If God did not intervene to save the lives of passengers, including children last week in Ukraine, how could I expect him to drive cancer out of the body of my friend? A sensible atheist will say that the answer to both Jesus and me is that there is no God. He doesn’t intervene or deliver from evil because he doesn’t exist. I want to say that Jesus’ trust in God allowed him to maintain his battle against evil through his trial and his death, but if, as the Gospels tell me, Jesus felt abandoned by God, can I even say that?
The gospels do not pretend that Jesus met his death with greater courage than many common criminals have mave managed. Scots still sing of Jamie McPherson executed for theft in 1700 in Banff:
“Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,Sae dauntingly gaed he;He play’d a tune, and danc’d it roon’Below the gallows-tree.”
No, Jesus suffered torture and death in anguush of body and soul as most people would. His especial courage is not his demeanour on the cross but his placing himself in the jaws of death by his public witness to God’s goodness. He left his life in the hands of the Father in whom he believed and the announcement of his resurrection by his followers
says that God did not fail him, but delivered him from evil. But of that definitive rescue there is no evidence other than the faith of his followers. In the whole story of Jesus arrest, trial, death and resurrection, there is no public show of divine power by either Jesus or God. That’s why I’m inclined to believe the Gospel writers’ crazy claim that this sad sequence of events is also the victory of God’s love through his son Jesus. There’s no heroics, no hocus-pocus, no evidence: if I want to prove its truth I have to try it.
8. Owe nothing to anyone except love; for they who love their neighbor have satisfied the Law. 9 The commandments, ‘You must not commit adultery, You must not kill, You must not steal, You must not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there is, are all summed up in the words — ‘You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ 10 Love never wrongs a neighbor. Therefore love fully satisfies the Law. 11 This I say, because you know the crisis that we have reached, for the time has already come for you to rouse yourselves from sleep; our salvation is nearer now than when we accepted the faith.
12 The night is almost gone; the day is near. Therefore let us have done with the deeds of darkness, and arm ourselves with the weapons of light. 13 Being in the light of day, let us live becomingly, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lust and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 No! Arm yourselves with the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, and spend no thought on your earthly nature, to satisfy its cravings.
Paul believed that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, that a new day was dawning and the power of darkness had been broken. The proof of this belief was that the followers of Jesus could live in the light of God’s goodness even before the break of day, as Jesus had done. They would find themselvess capable of obeying God’s commandments, through their love of their neighbour. The “earthly nature” (flesh) as Jesus himself had noted, is weak; but those who unite themselves with Jesus will live in his strength.