When Alan asked me if I had a favourite passage I could write about for ‘the LINK', I instantly knew which one I'd choose. I teach Mark's Gospel as part of the GCSE RS course at school and so the whole book is very familiar to me. This passage always leaves me with a lump in my throat and quiver in my voice. Throughout that Gospel we are introduced to a man who cares, heals, teaches and occasionally loses his temper with the somewhat frustrating disciples who do not always seem to grasp the right message. We see Jesus being strong when he's tired, brave when facing persecution and quick-witted when questioned.
After the drama of the Last Supper, this disparate group of men, led by Jesus, go beyond the city walls to find peace and solitude in order to pray.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.' 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,' he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.'
35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 ‘Abba,[f] Father,' he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.'
For the first time, we are allowed to glimpse a truly human, vulnerable, frightened man who knows what's approaching but cannot bear the thought of it. He prays to his daddy (Abba was an Aramaic affectionate term for 'father') and asks that he may not have to go through with it. With deeper prayer, an acceptance of the duty that lies before him, and with the strength of God, he eventually submits to the 'will' of God and the mood of the passage changes again.
It's a hard act to follow, being a Christian. Trying to strive for that which is 'Christ-like' is often overwhelming in the face of 21st century temptations, stresses and worries and I find myself succumbing to very human frailties of character. This short excerpt from Mark's Gospel reminds me that Jesus himself had times of insecurity and frailty; he eventually found strength in prayer to face the horrors of what was to come.
My wobbly-voiced emotion when teaching this passage to somewhat cynical 15 and 16 year olds is perhaps the first experience they have of seeing Scripture 'move' someone. They, too, are often able to recount times of trouble or fear when all they wanted was mum or dad to make things better. It makes Jesus real, human and approachable to them. Powerful stuff.