Best of Daily Reflections: The Agony in the Garden

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Mark 14:34

Last spring, we undertook a major renovation of our garden. A garden expert designed the plan and worked with us to select plants and bushes. Soil was tilled, fertilized, and tilled some more. The result was wonderful—flowers and fragrances all over, with songbirds, hummingbirds, and four kinds of bees descending upon our yard.

Then came the great drought of 2012—soaring temperatures and no rain for months. I spent an enormous and agonizing amount of time watering. I learned that gardening can be both an ecstasy and an agony.

I think of another garden, another time, and another kind of agony. This garden was more an orchard; its name means “oil press.” It was familiar to Jesus and his disciples, the place they came to rest, to talk, and to pray.

But not this night.

Now eleven in number, the disciples accompany Jesus to the garden. They had eaten, and it was late. They were likely still trying to grasp all of what Jesus had told them. And they were sleepy.

Jesus asks three of the eleven to come a little farther in. “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death,” he says. “Stay here, and keep watch.” But they, too, fall asleep.

He falls to the ground and prays. “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He prays this prayer twice.

We have the benefit of knowing the story. And so we’re surprised by this prayer. It’s as if Jesus wants to go off-script. It’s not the arrest, the mockery of a trial, the scourging, or even the physical torture he knows he’ll experience on the cross. It was the other reality he faced—the reality of taking on the burden of humanity’s sin. The sinless one would accept a burden so awful that God would turn his face away.

“Not what I will, but what you will,” Jesus prays.

That is the meaning of this garden, this orchard with its olive trees. Jesus will be squeezed and pressed until the sins of humanity are poured out and accounted for. He accepts an agony we cannot comprehend.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When have you experienced an agony of the soul? Have you ever asked God to take “this cup” from you? And what happened if he didn’t?

PRAYER: Father God, we often shrink before the tasks you set before us, even knowing that what you ask is small. You asked everything of your Son, even to death, and his response was “what you will.” Give us that heart, Father, give us the understanding that you will ask nothing of us that we cannot do, because the hard work has been done for us. Amen.