Of course, Jesus did some things we cannot do. We cannot die for anyone else’s sins. We cannot work miracles or forgive sins on our own authority. We cannot teach in our own name. Those are things that Christ does as God incarnate.
But we can follow the example of Jesus in a lot of ways, Jesus who was God incarnate but who was also—this is a great mystery—fully human, like us in all but sin.
The example Jesus sets for us in our gospel reading for this morning lies in how he responds to challenges.
Most of the time, Jesus displays a remarkable composure. Jesus faced bitter opposition from his enemies, betrayal, denial, and misunderstanding from his friends, and torture and execution at the hands of the political authorities. Through it all, Jesus was strong, compassionate, and forgiving.
His opponents often did not know what to make of Jesus’ incredible composure. At his trial, Jesus showed so little fear that Pilate felt the need to remind him “I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you” (John 19:10). Jesus was unimpressed.
I would love to be like that. Sadly, I am not. So it is a relief to me to see that Jesus also experienced what we might think of as more negative emotions. This is not something the Gospel writers particularly emphasize. But they don’t hide it either.
Just in the Gospel of John, we see Jesus angry when he drove the money-changers out of the temple (2:13f); grieving when his friend Lazarus died (11:33, 35); and thirsty on the cross (19:28).
And, in our Gospel reading for this morning, we hear Jesus admit that his “soul is troubled.” Jesus knows that, like a grain of wheat, he will soon fall into the earth and die. And, understandably, Jesus is afraid.
The other Gospel writers give us a fuller picture of Jesus’ emotional turmoil as he approaches his death. They describe him praying for hours that God would spare him (Mark 14:32-42). According to Luke, he prayed with such anguish that his sweat became like great drops of blood (22:44).
In our reading for this morning, Jesus is not yet so anguished as that. But it is coming, and Jesus knows it is coming, and Jesus’ soul is troubled.
That already teaches us one important lesson. Having a troubled soul is nothing to be ashamed of.
Christ comes to offer us joy, true, deep, and abiding joy, the joy that comes from God, the kind of joy that can sustain us in hard times. Jesus knew that joy better than anyone. And Jesus experienced those troubling emotions that we often try to hide: anger, and grief, and need, and fear. If Jesus can experience them, if Jesus can admit them publicly, without shame, then we can, too.
There is comfort just in that. We do not have to pretend that we have it all together. We do not have to put on a happy face, in Church or anywhere else. We can be honest about what we are feeling. That is a great gift.
But there is more to say than simply that Jesus sometimes had a troubled soul. Jesus also gives us a clue for how we can most faithfully face our troubles.
In our reading, Jesus considers asking God to save him from this hour, to save him from the ordeal of the passion. At this point, he doesn’t go there. He will, just a few days later, in Gethsemane where Jesus prays that God might take the cup of suffering from him.
But here Jesus doesn’t ask God to save him. And—this is the point I want to emphasize—Jesus doesn’t ask God to save him because Jesus understands his purpose, and the place of suffering in it. As Jesus says, “it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Many people in our culture today have lost any sense of deep purpose. We live from day to day, taking care of our responsibilities, trying to do the right thing, and in the process pursuing a little happiness. But for many of us, the various pieces of our lives do not come together into an overarching purpose or goal.
Institutions spend a fair amount of time coming up with mission statements. Here at Saint David’s, the vestry is in the process of reviewing our mission statement. But many of us do not have the equivalent of a mission statement for our lives.
Without a mission, without a clear sense of purpose, we can still enjoy eating, drinking, and being merry. We can watch a football game or enjoy a sunset. But without a sense of purpose, we do not have the resources to make sense of the inevitable suffering that comes as a part of human life. So we ignore suffering as long as we can, and then, when we have to face it, we hide our suffering from others as best we can.
In our passage, Jesus is showing us another way.
Jesus could face his suffering, and all the emotional turmoil that came with it, because Jesus knew what he was living for, and he knew what was worth suffering and dying for.
We are not likely to have Jesus’ perfect clarity about our reason for living. But we can do a lot better than nothing.
Some of us do.
When my grandfather broke his hip, my grandmother devoted herself to caring for him. I am sure that it was often frustrating, and occasionally maddening. He was not always an easy man.
But my grandmother remained genuinely joyful, even in the midst of that very difficult situation. And she was able to keep going because she had a purpose.
Caring for my grandfather was a big part of her purpose. After my grandfather died, my grandmother said she was ready to go anytime because her work was done. She died a couple of years later, and she had a good death, just as she had had a good life.
But she had a deeper purpose too. My grandmother knew that her purpose was to grow in the knowledge and love of God. That is the purpose for all of us. My grandmother also knew, in her final years, that caring for my grandfather was her way of growing in the knowledge and love of God. She followed that way to the end. And despite whatever suffering she experienced along the way, despite whatever trouble she felt in her soul, she could say, to herself and to God, “it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Today is the last Sunday of Lent. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week, when we focus on Christ’s final days, his crucifixion, and his resurrection.
As we prepare to remember Christ’s death, and the reasons he had for submitting to it, we should be thinking about our own lives, about why we are here, about our purpose, about what we are willing to suffer and die for. How is it that we are called, right now, to grow in the knowledge and love of God? What is our way?
If we can gain a little clarity on that, we will be far better equipped to face whatever suffering comes, and, hopefully, to continue growing into the people that God created us to be.
That is my prayer for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.