Jesus prays at Gethsemane.

Mark 14.32-41, Matthew 26.36-45, Luke 22.39-46, John 18.1.

The first of St. Francis’s stations of the cross was when Jesus was given his cross. (Duh.) But Jesus’s suffering began earlier that day, so St. John Paul’s list also began earlier—with Gethsemane, the olive garden on Mt. Olivet, where Jesus prayed he might not go through the crucifixion.

In fact he was so agitated at the idea, he sweat blood. Something The Passion of the Christ left out—but to be fair it is a textual variant, possibly added to Luke in the second century. But let’s get to how the gospels depicted it. First the synoptic gospels—

Mark 14.32-41 KWL
32 They went to a place named Gat Semaním/“oil press,”
and Jesus told his students, “Sit here while I pray.”
33 Jesus took Simon Peter, James, and John with him—and began to panic and freak out.
34 Jesus told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake.”
35 He went a little ahead, fell to the ground, and was praying this:
“If it’s possible, have this hour pass by!”
36 Jesus said, Abbá! Father, you can do anything: Take this cup from me.
But not what I want. What you want.”
37 Jesus came back, found the students asleep, and told Peter, “Simon? You’re sleeping?
You can’t stay awake one hour? 38 Stay awake. Pray, lest you come to temptation.
Though you’ve a willing spirit, your flesh is weak.”
39 Jesus went away again, praying the same words.
40 Coming back again, Jesus found the students asleep.
Their eyes were heavy. They didn’t know how to answer him.
41 When Jesus came back a third time, he told the students, Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.
Stay back, for look: The Son of Man is arrested by sinful hands.”
Matthew 26.36-45 KWL
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gat Semaním/“oil press.”
He told his students, “Sit there while I’ve gone over there, so I can pray.”
37 Taking Simon Peter and the two sons of Zavdi, Jesus began to mourn and freak out,
38 and told them, “My soul is deathly sad. Stay here. Stay awake with me.”
39 Jesus went a little ahead, falling on his face, praying and saying,
“My Father, if it’s possible, make this cup pass over me—
still, not as I want. As you want.”
40 Jesus came back to the students and found them asleep, and told Peter,
“So none of you can stay awake one hour with me?
41 Stay awake. Pray, lest you enter into temptation.
Though you have a willing spirit, your flesh is weak.”
42 Jesus went away again a second time praying, saying, “My Father,
if this can’t pass over unless I drink it, your will be done.”
43 Coming back again, Jesus found the students asleep. Their eyes had been heavy.
44 Forgiving them, going away again, Jesus prayed, saying the same words again a third time.
45 Then coming back to the students, Jesus told them, Oh, sleep the rest of the time; stop it.
Look, the hour comes near for the Son of Man to be given up to sinful hands!”
Luke 22.39-46 KWL
39 Coming out, they went through Mt. Olivet as usual. The students followed Jesus.
40 On reaching the place, Jesus told them, “Pray. Don’t enter into temptation.”
41 Jesus stepped away from them—and taking to his knees,
he was praying, 42 saying, “Father, if you please, take this cup from me—
still, not my will. Your will be done.”
43 [Jesus saw a heavenly angel, which strengthened him.
44 Becoming stressed, Jesus was praying in agony,
and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down to the ground.]
45 Rising up from his prayer and coming to his students, Jesus found them sleeping in their grief.
46 Jesus told them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray, so you don’t enter temptation!”

—and then, just because John’s gotta do things his own way—

John 18.1 KWL
When he said this, Jesus with his students went over the Kidron ravine,
where there was a garden. He and his students entered it.

The beginning of Jesus’s passion.

You’ll notice John skipped the story of the prayer. The author was more interested in what Jesus had to teach his students before his arrest. But the other gospels focused on Jesus, here freaking out over what he knew was to come.

Yeah, he knew it was coming. He’d been warning his kids it was coming. Now the time had arrived… and understandably, Jesus didn’t want it to. He’s no masochist. He didn’t wanna be tortured to death. Who would? Since it was Passover, hey, maybe the Father could make this pass over. Notice that’s how Jesus phrased it in Matthew.

Calvinists like to claim God’s plan for the universe is certain and fixed. If so, Jesus sure didn’t act like he knew this. He wanted the plan changed. And he knows the Father better than anyone: Why bother to pray for change if no such change were possible?

Since this plea of Jesus in Gethsemane dings their theology a bit, various Christians believe Jesus was having a crisis of faith here. He really wasn’t. In each of the gospels which tell the story, Jesus reiterated he was never gonna do as he wanted: Only what the Father wanted. He always had the faith to follow the Father.

But like he told Simon Peter, flesh is weak. Even his own. ’Cause like all humans, Jesus could feel pain, and pain is a powerful demotivator. Jesus could bleed, break, and die, and until God the Son became flesh, Jn 1.14 he never had that sort of weakness. Flesh wants to be comfortable, not suffer. So of course his flesh was tempted. But Jesus mastered his own flesh long before, and his will overruled any comfort and safety his flesh craved. It would die. And we would live. Forever.

Lots of us Christians like to describe Gethsemane as “the last temptation of Christ,” ’cause it’s the last time we see him presented with the option to go to the cross, or cut and run. Really it’s not. At every point in his passion, as he pointed out to Peter, he could’ve put a stop to everything. All he had to do was say the word. Mt 26.53 And I’m sure in every jolt of pain, he was tempted to summon the angels and make it stop. But Jesus’s will was iron. Humans constantly break easily, yet Jesus never broke. His will was mightier than his suffering. He’s a brilliant example of resolve under pressure. May we, with the Holy Spirit’s power, be even a fraction as strong.