Returning to Called to Lead – God’s Call, Your Vocation, skimming over some stuff that the Rev. Paul Baglyos thinks about, the next writing prompt is “What is your favorite story of Jesus in the New Testament gospel narratives? How does Jesus’ use of speech and words figure into that story?” And I actually know what the answer is because I’ve known that answer for a few years.
My very favorite story of Jesus in the New Testament gospel narratives is the prayers at Gethsemane – Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42. As you may recall, on the night He was betrayed, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him when he went to pray at Gethsemane. This is usually presented as taking place in a garden, though the sources I have handy don’t use that word – “garden” probably means a field or something. Jesus wants a little alone time, so He tells the three disciples to wait while he goes yon to pray.
Somehow, even though Jesus goes off by Himself, His prayers are recorded, and what He prays for is not to be crucified. He’s pretty clear about it – He really would prefer to not have to go through with the whole thing. But he is willing to do it – that’s clear too. He goes back to where Peter, James and John are and finds them sleeping. He wakes them up, dresses ’em down and then goes away to pray some more, repeating the whole thing about how He really, really would prefer to just avoid the whole scourging, mocking, getting nailed to a cross thing, but He’s willing to do it if it’s gotta be done. Back to the guys, who are sleeping again, and He says “The Spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
That, little children, is the pivot of the whole Bible, in my ‘umble opinion. That moment right there is what it is all about.
Through the whole of the Old Testament, God is speaking to people, telling them to sacrifice things and build boats and eat locusts and honey and all kinds of stuff. He keeps giving people instructions and they keep on screwing things up and God gets mad and makes everybody sorry and then He sends somebody else to straighten everybody out and they screw it up again and on and on and then God says “What is wrong with these idiots? I’ma havta go down there Myself” and He does just that and for the first time, God actually inhabits a human body. Let that sit in yer brainpan a minute.
For the very first time, according to the available sources, God, the Divine Mystery, Creator and Preserver of everything that has ever been and ever will be, Omnipotent, Infinite and Eternal, Ineffable and Inconceivable, takes a human form, inhabits a mortal body, and finds out what it’s like to be human. And it appears that God found out that He had been asking a little much of His creatures.
Jesus knew what it was like to be human. He had experienced all the pains and sicknesses, emotions and fleeting thoughts that all of of us experience. He had possibly had the hots for the girl next door, been annoyed by His mom, wanted to punch some dude in the mouth. He had gone through puberty, mashed His thumb with a hammer, really wanted that mountain bike His parents couldn’t afford. He had actually been one of us – though He had a bit of an advantage because He was also Divine. And He knew that. He musta been thinkin’ “Shit, this whole being human thing sucks – and it’s gotta be worse for these poor saps.”
So He finds Peter and the sons of Zebedee sleeping and He’s a little bothered – He was pretty emphatic about wanting them to stay awake – but He gets it. He knows they wanted to do what He asked, but they’re only human. Nobody had imported coffee from Abyssinia yet. It was late and they were really tired.
And even though it sometimes sucks to be human, Jesus would really like to keep it going. He doesn’t want to die. Sure, He knows how wonderful Heaven is and wouldn’t mind going home, but the experience of being human does have some few good points. The disciples aren’t geniuses by a long shot, but Jesus does kinda like the guys. Mary is cool – maybe not too hard on the eyes, kinda nice to hang out with. It ain’t all bad.
“Yet, not what I want, but what You want.” That is pretty crucial too. That is what we’re charged with. It is totally reasonable and expected that we will behave like people – that’s what we are after all, God knows – but we are supposed to be willing to at least try to put aside our own selfish motivations when it is right fuckin’ obvious that God wants us to do a specific thing. We’re all gonna die eventually – and some of are gonna go out screaming and bloody – and that kinda has to be okay. What else? Jesus knew that His number was about to get called and He wasn’t thrilled about that, but He was willing to do what needed doin’.
Ya wanna what kinda hoops I gotta jump through to be a Lutheran Pastor? There’s a bunch. Day after tomorrow, I’ll take a class after Church and formally join the local Lutheran Church. Then I’ll have some meetings with the Pastor, probably write some shit – some of which I’ll have to make nice and pretty, without all the cussin’ – then I’ll havta meet with somebody at the Synod, convince them I’m a reasonable candidate for ordination. I don’t have a Bachelor’s Degree, which is a thing they generally like for you to have before you enter a Master’s program. There is some possibility that the requirement for a Bachelor’s could be waived – I do think mine is a case where that could be done, because I’m I’m older than some and not totally ignorant about stuff – but that hasn’t been done yet, so I’d havta get a Bachelor’s, then apply to seminary. All of that is one to three years, depending on the Bachelor’s thing, and assuming that if I have to get a Bachelor’s I could do that in two years. Might take longer. Then four years, at least, of seminary. I’ll be fifty in a coupla months. Spending my fifties working full-time, parenting part-time and slogging through a dozen full-time semesters of college is not exactly how I was hoping to spend my fifties. I am inherently lazy and I would oh-so-much rather not go to all the trouble. I would oh-so-much rather hang out, read books, wander around in the national forest – naked, if the weather is nice – take my kid to the playground, maybe work on the truck a bit. Becoming a Pastor in God’s Lutheran Church is really gonna get in the way of my leisure time. But I’ma do it. I’ve tried not doing what God wants me to – I’ll write about that sometime – and found meself in the belly of a metaphorical whale, which I’d like to avoid. Also, doing what God asks generally works out surprising well – I like it better. So I am quite willing to go with “Your will, not mine, be done.” If it turns out that I’m able to actually accomplish this particular goal – which will mean I get a diploma and can start doing the actual work of Pastoring – it’ll be because God wants it to work out that way. I’m sure I’ll continue to sin along the way. I might even find some new ways to sin.
After the garden-prayers-are-you-guys-sleeping-again? episode, Judas shows up with a crowd with swords and clubs, Jesus is betrayed and then the Passion and Crucifixion and all that. Jesus’ final words on humanity are that we are ignorant, more worthy of pity than scorn. He came to that conclusion by being one of us. The whole import of God taking on human form is right there – the Grace of God, by which we are justified, comes from God’s experience of what kinda situation He put us in. He knows that we can try as hard as all get-out and we’re still gonna find a way to fuck things up. Even Jesus sinned at the end – how can we possibly do better?
So. Garden at Gethsemane. Jesus acknowledging that He gets it, He understands what we’re up against. He asks us to try to do a little better than the least we can do, but He knows we’re never gonna be all that great. That’s my favorite story of Jesus in the New Testament gospel narratives.