Three times asking

I’ve read the story before.

The night before the crucifixion, Jesus tells God that he’d rather not “drink this cup” of death, but “not my will but thine.” While he’s praying, the disciples fall asleep three times. The lessons are, 1) Jesus did the Father’s will and 2) disciples need to learn to watch and pray.

And those are appropriate lessons. But as I was reading the story in Mark again, I noticed that after the first round of praying and rousing, Mark writes “again He went away and prayed, saying the same words.” Matthew makes clear that “the same words” were, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Then, after a second time waking the drowsy disciples, Jesus prayed the same thing a third time.

Three times asking for the inevitable to pass, if at all possible. The single most important part of the global plan was the most catastrophic personally. And Jesus kept asking, kept accepting, kept asking, kept accepting. And then was done.

I remembered Paul saying something about “three times.” He had seen some great revelation. There was a risk of becoming conceited and with that arrogance undermining everything he had taught. So he was given “a thorn in the flesh”, something that we can’t identify, but which Paul begged to be gone. Three times he asked. And the answer wasn’t what Paul expected. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So Paul said, “not my power, but Yours.”

I don’t think that these “three-rounds-with-God” wrestling matches are frequent in our lives. These are once-in-a-lifetime, for-the-rest-of-my-life moments. But in those moments, it’s okay to ask God more than once: “Are you you sure?”

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