Jesus’s episode in the Garden of Gethsemane the night of his betrayal and arrest is one of his most famous. Jesus spent many nights in prayer, but rarely do we have any knowledge of what he prayed about. In reality, we know very little of what he prayed while in the Garden that evening, but what we do know has powerful implications.
“Jesus said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.'” (Mark 14:36)
In this prayer, Jesus teaches us what it means to submit to the Father.
It’s important to remember that as part of the Trinity, the Father and Son are equal, along with the Spirit. Jesus is in the very essence God. Jesus is not submitting because he has to submit, because he is beneath the Father in importance. Jesus’s submission is a choice. Jesus chooses to submit to the Father’s will. Jesus decides that for the sake of God’s mission, and for the sake of humanity, he will submit to the Father’s plan to go to the cross and become the suffering servant.
Yet, even in submission, Jesus asks for another way. Jesus declares at the beginning of the prayer that all things are possible for the Father. Jesus knows that the Father can choose another way. Jesus is hoping that the Father will choose another way, and even openly pleads for a different outcome. Still, Jesus promises to submit. There is no anger when God chooses a different path. There is no blaming or questioning why the Father has not acted. There is instead humble submission to the will of the Father.
Often, when we too cry out for God to act in a certain way knowing God has the power to act. We pray for God to heal. We beg for God to provide a job or resources. We hope for a different outcome. But how do we respond when God chooses to not respond the way we had hoped? Are we willing to accept the will of the Father or do we lose faith and trust in God? Do we begin to question? Do we declare that God obviously doesn’t care about us or doesn’t love us? Are we able to continue to follow God’s will even when we don’t like the direction God is moving the story?
It’s interesting, our society in many ways is based on the notion of not submitting to others. One of humanity’s biggest weaknesses, one of the character traits that often leads to sin, is humanity’s desire to make our own decisions and not submit. In the Garden of Eden, God gives Adam and Eve only one limitation, but they won’t submit to that rule and instead choose their own way. Since then, humanity has continued to struggle with submission, often wanting to do things our own way because we think we know what’s best for our lives.
Jesus however practices complete submission to the Father. Jesus is equal to the Father, yet chooses a subordinate role, in some ways to teach humanity what it means to be human. Humans submit. We submit to the Father who is in charge of all things. We also submit to each other. We develop a spirit of submission. As Paul tells the Ephesians, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) This doesn’t mean we get walked over or just give in to anything anyone else wants. But it does mean that we learn an important truth that we don’t always have to get our own way. As Christians, we must always be willing to do what’s best for the whole. In our marriages, we submit to our spouse; to honor, serve, and bless them in a way that helps them reach their full potential. For our children, we submit to them, we serve them. We still provide guidance and remain in control, but we serve them to help them grow and mature as humans. In peer relationships, we submit to each other, trying to find ways to bless our friends; helping them achieve all that God designed them to achieve.
Submission is hard. It’s not something we often enjoy doing. But as Jesus models submission for us, we become disciples who learn to submit to the Father and to each other out of reference for Christ.