“My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Mat. 26:42
In the story of Gethsemane as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus acknowledges his wish that the occasion for His suffering would be removed. Like any of us confronted by unwanted circumstances the Lord prays, as we have perhaps often prayed ourselves, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. “
Jesus tables His preference. But He does so in the posture of a servant who defers to the will of his master as He adds the courageous footnote, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” As disagreeable as it is to His human nature, if He must drink the bitter cup, Jesus is prepared to accept His Father’s will.
How often, in our own lives, have we too prayed in the hope that “this cup be taken from me?” But what happens when God does not answer this prayer? Where do we go when it becomes apparent that the cup of suffering will not pass? Jesus faced this reality in Gethsemane and altered His prayer accordingly. In the rephrasing of His petition He models for us a disposition that we too might claim when the cup we wish were taken away from us does not pass.
In Matthew’s account of Gethsemane, Jesus prays three times. His first petition, “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” changes in His second and third prayers to the more resigned, “if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Jesus’ prayer evolves from one that expresses His natural and understandable aversion of suffering to one that now prepares Him for the lot He must accept. It is a prayer that now seeks the grace to endure what cannot be changed.
These two prayers apply to us as well in every anticipated suffering. We pray, naturally, for the removal of such if possible, but we must also pray beyond this first objective. If the only petition we make is that suffering be taken from us we will find ourselves dismayed should the cup remain. Our petition will seem to have failed and God will seem to have deserted us. We must also be prepared to pray, as Jesus did, “if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, let your will be done.”
The Lord did not hide from us His aversion to suffering. The cup, as we know, was not taken from Him. But what did pass was the fear that it produced in Him. Whether the cup of suffering remains or is taken away from us, our best hope lies in the same assurance that Jesus draws courage from—that, either way, this is a cup that will surely pass.