It requires a peculiar strength to assert one’s will as the penultimate thing.
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
In Gethsemane’s anteroom to judicial murder, Jesus knew exactly what he wanted: to live.
If there was glory in the arrest, the beatings, the cross that waited him, there was no pleasure. It came to Jesus’ lips as a most bitter, unwanted cup. He would have done almost anything to escape its venom.
Almost anything. On this the world hinges.
Submission to his Father’s will was no pious, theatrical move, pulled off with aplomb before an astonished audience because one has rehearsed its maneuvers to the point of maximum dexterity. To take the cup against his will was, almost literally, hell. Yet Jesus manages to squeeze these words out of one of redemption’s narrowest corners: Yet not my will, but yours be done.
We err quite grievously if we treat these words sentimentally. One wishes one could hear the tone of Jesus’ voice as he begged his Father to find another way, one that did not require this, one that was facile, less expensive, one that did not force itself reckon with the necessities forced upon the created world by the deep crack that goes all the way down.
The Father does not blink. Perhaps Jesus knew that he would not or could not. So does the penultimacy of desire cede to the inevitability of redemption’s logic. Jesus might have walked free from Gethsemane, made his way home to Galilee, lived out his days amid family, friends, disciples.
He would not. Penultimacy will not.
The holiest, the most human, the most authentic, the most reasonable will meets its superior and gives way. Else there is tyranny. Else there is death, an unhealed world full of ghosts who cannot find their way back home.
Not mine, but yours. Absent this opposition, we are not saved.
Absent this absolute contrariness, we get what we want and lose forever what we need.