The garden of Gethsemane is the bookend to the prayer life of Jesus, the final recorded prayer before His walk to Calvary. Remember that at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasted forty days and then faced Satan’s temptations. Now, as the conclusion of His ministry approaches, He separates Himself from the apostles for a little while to pray before His arrest and crucifixion.
He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” . . . Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matthew 26:39, 42)
In the garden prayer, Jesus teaches us two things about submission. First, we learn that it occurs in the context of relationship. Jesus addressed God the Father. It was not an impersonal and passionless portion of the Trinity to whom Jesus spoke. Rather, He was communing with the Father who loves the Son and is pleased with Him. We live out a reality reflect- ing the same principle. We are not submitting to a nameless, faceless power. Rather, we do this in the context of a loving covenant. We submit because we love Him. He accepts our surrender because He loves us.
The second lesson from the garden prayer is that submission is hard. It is why we should view it as a discipline. In a brief amount of time, the Son asks the Father about the “cup” passing from Him. In other words, Jesus is asking if there is another way to obtain our salvation. Being divine, the Lord knows there is not. I believe His request and immediate submission takes place to give us the example that submission is necessary, even when it is difficult. The gospel of Luke records that Jesus anguished through the prayer and sweat drops like blood (Luke 22:44). It is under this extreme pressure that Jesus entrusts Himself to the will of the Father. Thus, our salvation is won through His death and resurrection.
So our salvation arrives when we surrender to Jesus in faith. Our holiness is developed as we continue to walk in submission to His Spirit. Saint Ignatius once prayed:
Lord, I freely yield to You all my liberty,
Take my memory, my intellect, and my entire will. You have given me everything I am or have;
I give it all back to You to stand under Your will alone. Your love and Your grace are enough for me,
I ask for nothing more. *
With this prayer, we see a picture for our own abandon- ment to God. It is the portrait of one laying down the heavy burden of self-rule. Rather than choose our own experiences, intellect, and self-direction, we submit joyfully to live by God’s love and grace. Nothing more.
* As quoted by Peter Kreeft in Prayer: The Great Conversation (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985), 172.