“Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.”
I am currently reading New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown’s book, The Death of the Messiah. It is a fascinating book. What I find most fascinating about it is that Brown compares each pericope of the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of Mark with the same story found in the other three gospels. In the current chapter I am reading, Brown is comparing the pericope of Jesus prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he will be arrested.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is in deep agony. He cries out to the Father (paraphrased): “You can do anything, Daddy. Remove this cup from me…”
That is pretty strong language!
Now think about this: Why would one member of the triune godhead beg another member of the triune godhead to be released from doing something he really does not want to do??? That doesn’t sound like something the Almighty, All-powerful Creator and Lord God of Heaven and Earth would say!
But that’s not all! Brown goes on to show how in subsequent gospels (written in later decades of the first century), the tone of Jesus’ anxiety and cry for help becomes much more muted. Check out the same prayer in Matthew and Luke:
“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
These two prayer requests are not so demanding (and desperate sounding) as the prayer in Mark. Why? Brown suggests, that at least for the author of Luke, the idea of the Christ throwing himself on the ground and begging the Father to spare him the “cup” was completely unacceptable to his (higher) christology. In other words, Luke’s Jesus would never act like Mark’s Jesus!
So what about the version of Jesus’ prayer to the Father in Gethsemane as recorded in the Gospel of John? Answer: There is no prayer to the Father in Gethsemane in the Gospel of John! In fact, the Gethsemane scene in the Gospel John only mentions Jesus and the disciples going to the garden followed shortly by the arrival of Judas and the Jews to arrest Jesus. So did Jesus pray to the Father about the “cup” in the Gospel of John??? Absolutely, however, instead of this prayer occurring in the Garden of Gethesemane the prayer occurs during the Last Supper. And what a prayer it is!!! No mention of the anxiety-ridden Jesus who throws himself onto the ground as we see in Mark and Matthew. John’s Jesus is cool, calm, and collected. John’s Jesus only thinks of his disciples. He does not have the time to bother worrying about his own well-being! Remember now, dear Reader, the Gospel of John was the last gospel written, most likely in the 90’s or early 100’s. Did a higher christology exist at the end of the first century as compared to the 60’s and 70’s, the time period when most scholars believe that the first gospel, Mark was written? Just read the first chapter of the Gospel of John to obtain the answer to this question. The author of the Gospel of John starts out his gospel referring to Jesus as the logos of God; a being who existed in the beginning, at Creation, with God.
The Johannine Jesus has no fear of death. He doesn’t beg the Father to spare him “the cup”. He faces the cross calmly and in absolute control. He is the eternal Logos, after all!
Here is the Johannine Jesus’ prayer (a long one!) at the conclusion of the Last Supper, prior to crossing the Kidron to enter the garden at the base of the Mount of Olives:
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people,[a] to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that[b] you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost,[c] so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.[d] 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.[e] 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,[f] so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
—John chapter 17