39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”[g] 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.]][h] 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”[i]
47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” 49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”
“Gripping my arm, Mother held it in the orange-blue flame. My skin seemed to explode from the heat.”― Dave Pelzer, A Child Called “It” In 1995, a devastating memoir came out entitled, A Child Called It and it detailed the horrific abuse inflected on a young child named David by his mother. Everything from burning him, making him sleep in the garage, eating rotten food, making him clean the bathroom with a mix of ammonia and bleach…eventually David is removed from the home by social services and placed in foster care. And then he wrote two other books, exploring his time in Foster Care and learning to heal and forgive as an adult. And it is a horrible story and was is particularly sad is that David is one of several boys, but only David was abused. He seemed to be the target of his anger, and the scapegoat of the family. What if anything does this have to do with our passage today? Well, I can’t help but wonder how David Pelzer’s book is different than the offspring of David, in our passage today. If you weren’t aware, Jesus is known as an offspring of David, in fact, one of Advent passages (which we believe predicts the coming Messiah; Jesus Christ) is from Isaiah 11, and Isaiah 11:1 reads, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse (the father of King David), and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lor shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
Isn’t our Christ, Jesus, an offspring of Jesse and David, was he also left at the mercy of a vindictive parent? Isn’t that one of the things that our passage is pointing towards today? If so, I find it incredibly troubling. Disturbingly troubling. What is it that Jesus is praying to his Father about? “Father please take this cup from me?”
In the Old Testament, cup is referred to being martyred or G-d’s wrath, we see this in, Isaiah 51:17, you who have drunk at the hand of the LORD
the cup of his wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl of staggering…
22, Thus says your Sovereign, the LORD,
your God who pleads the cause of his people:
See, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
you shall drink no more
from the bowl of my wrath.
Jeremiah 25:15; 15 For thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword that I am sending among them.
So is Christ really asking to be releaved of G-d’s wrath? The wrath of an angry G-d being scapegoated on an innocent child? Is that really the G-d we love and serve?
Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves, Us Paperback – November 18, 2002
by Rita Nakashima Brock (Author), Rebecca Ann Parker (Author)
“A generation after Anselm of Canterbury wrote this theology, Abelard
in his Exposition on the Epistle to the Romans question it. ‘Who will
forgive God for the sin of killing his own child?’ he asked. ‘How
cruel and wicked it seems that anyone should demand the blood of an
innocent person as the price for anything, or that it should in any
way please him that an innocent man should be slain—still less that
God should consider the death of his son so agreeable that by it he
should be reconciled to the whole world!’
“Offense at a cruel image of God has been present throughout the
centuries. In 1804, in his Treatise on the Atonement, the American
Universalist preacher Hosea Ballou said, ‘The believe that the great
Jehovah was offended with his creatures to the degree, that nothing
but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could
appease his anger, is an idea that has done more injury to the
Christian religion than the writings of all its opposers, for many
centuries. The error has been fatal to the life and spirit of the
religion of Christ in our world; all those principles which are to be
dreaded by men have been believed to exist in God; and professors have
been moulded into the image of their Deity, and become more cruel…’
“Do we really believe that God is appeased by cruelty, and wants
nothing more than our obedience? It becomes imperative that we ask
this question when we examine how theology sanctions human cruelty.
“If God is imagined as a fatherly torturer, earthly parents are also
justified, perhaps even required to teach through violence. Children
are instructed to understand their submission to pain as a form of
love. Behind closed doors, in our own community, spouses and children
are batter by abusers who justify their actions a necessary, loving
discipline. ‘I only hit her because I love her.’ ‘I’m doing this for
your own good.’ The child or the spouse who believes that obedience is
what God wants may put up with physical or sexual abuse in an effort
to be a good Christian.
“Theology that defines virtue as obedience to Go suppresses the virtue
of revolt. A woman being battered by her husband will be counseled to
be obedient, as Jesus was to God. After all, Eve brought sin into the
world by her disobedience. A good woman submits to her husband submits
“Some will say that absolute obedience to God doesn’t carry danger
because God is good and does not ask us to be violent. But this
defense requires us to be certain that we are always right in
understanding what God asks of us. We are fallible. The Bible, some
argue, provide an infallible revelation of the will of God. But the
Bible is a complex, multi-voiced document. Its teachings can be
harmonized only by imposing onto the Bible a uniformity that is not in
the text itself. There is no simple revelation of God’s will. We have
to accept responsibility for our interpretations. Obedience is not a
virtue. It is an evasion of our responsibility. Religion must engage
us in the exercise of our responsibilities, not teach us to deny the
power that is ours….
Is G-d, the Father command and want and will that Jesus be tortured and murdered? “Is this the same G-d that Jesus tells us about in Luke 11? I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
That certainly doesn’t seem like a vindictive and abusive G-d? Is it possible that Jesus is asking for something else to be removed, when he is saying, “Father remove this cup from me.” ? As many of you have noticed, we are not meeting in person, we are worshipping through the internet. And as we are all aware, we are in the throws of a pandemic, called COVID-19. And we are all looking forward to when we can safely gather together in person. And we are also working our way through the scriptures that take Jesus to the cross. We, often like to overlook these passages. These are hard passages. They force us to explore our responsibility and culpability, how we are like the disciples who flee and abandon Christ when things get hard. And today’s text takes us right into the heart of that struggle. We are right on the cusp of the crucifixion. We, from 2,000 years in the future, know what is coming. The wheels have already been set into motion. Jesus’ knows what is coming, he has told his disciples, what is coming and yet, they fall asleep. Dr. David Randall-Bodman, gave a sermon on this text last year at the start of Covid and he drew some powerful parallels with our text and today’s environment.
He connects Jesus to essential workers. To nurses and doctors, and sanitary staff, and fire fighters and police offers, and bus drivers, and grocery store workers….and that they are going to work, often scared but knowing that they are part of a bigger story of a greater cause. And they are praying that the cup of Covid and suffering pass over them, and yet they are brave and still go, so that we can get medical help and food…and then he drew parallels between the disciples who disregard the request of Christ to put other’s needs beyond theirs and who fall asleep, as those who refuse to wear masks. Who don’t see the greater picture and are only interested in their needs and their circumstances. Is that what Jesus is praying about? Knowing that the cross and his death would somehow awaken us to the depths of our sin and G-d’s ability to overcome that and show us a better away. A way of turning the other check. A way the coincides more with the second part of our passage; the part where Jesus restores the ear to the slave and tells his disciples to put away their swords.
Could it be, that here, Jesus is fearing what we all fear? Death? Suffering? Abandonment? Pain? The human condition? He can see the writing on the wall, and doesn’t want to experience it? Doesn’t want to die? Isn’t his prayer similar to the prayers that many of us face when we or a loved one is suffering? Isn’t it literally one of the stages of grief? Bargaining with G-d?
In, Apprentices and Eyewitnesses Chris Thorpe writes;
Jesus is alone and lonely: ‘Could you not watch with me one brief hour?’ In Gethsemane Jesus dares to own his deepest feelings, to voice his deepest longing, his heartfelt desire not to go through the coming trauma and pain and death. The same words are repeated in some form whenever a person is diagnosed with cancer or some other untreatable illness: ‘Take this cup away from me.’ At this terrible moment, we long for reality to be different, for the miracle, for the respite, the powerful cure. It can be hard to own up to our real feelings, particularly for people of faith: we are expected to have spiritual resources to cope.
Can we be as honest and real about our feelings as Jesus, letting go of any pretense of being more able or competent than we are, letting go of any pretense of being braver or holier or better than we really are? Can we dare to voice our own fears and feelings and doubts?
Let’s take into this time of reflection our own Gethsemane moments, our own fears and disappointments, and allow Jesus’ honest hand to hold them. He closes with this prayer’
Lord Jesus, we wait with you in the darkness,
we will watch with you now,
in this moment when you need us.
Help us to learn from your honesty,
as we own our real feelings
about the unchosen challenges in our own life.
We don’t want this cup.
Give us grace to walk through the valley,
and come to the dawn of a new day