Some people find virtue in ambition, while others believe that a simple life, is a virtuous life – but each one likely agrees that life should be lived on our own terms. This is the common ground where pluralism allows those driven by a greater cause, to live at peace, alongside those willing to wait for a greater cause to come find them in due time. But such pluralism is fragile at best, and largely mythic in its presumed comity – as we always tend to insinuate our own sense of propriety on everyone else . . . every chance we get.
Life on our own terms is just another way of saying “. . . Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Which may seem innocuously agreeable enough to you – until it occurs to you that it will be the imposed will of fallen man defining exactly how this will be commonly practiced. But this is no surprise, it’s no big secret that we’re all working on our own agenda – whether it be a conspicuously ambitious agenda, or one that is merely about the self-preservation of what we imagine to be a normal life.
At the Last Supper, we find Jesus on his knees washing the feet of his disciples, so that they might learn the way of Christ. And the bread and the cup, of an old tradition, was given a new significance, to be the defining expression of how the Servant King loves his people. But this all occurs as his disciples were preoccupied with, who among them might become the greatest. So Jesus foretells the actions of two of his disciples, the one who would betray (Judas), and the one who would deny (Peter). Only Jesus knew how this night would actually end . . . as both Peter and Judas could only assume how their actions would play out.
In many ways, Judas represents political ambition – because when it became clear to him that Jesus wasn’t going to lead the political movement Judas was looking for . . . he cut his losses, and turned Jesus into the Sanhedrin for thirty pieces of silver in order to fund his next political endeavor. With Peter, his agenda became one of self-preservation, when only three years earlier, his agenda had been to see just how far he could follow this Nazarene . . . and now, it seemed he knew the answer to that question, all too well.
At Gethsemane the disciples fall asleep – leaving Jesus alone to face the disquiet of that long dark night. As I think of this, I want to imagine myself as someone who would have stayed awake with Jesus, as someone who wouldn’t deny him . . . or betray him. But I know all too well how my own agenda leads me away from him, whether in its blind ambition, or in its passive self-preservation – I know my own capacity for ending up with thirty pieces in my pocket . . . may God have mercy on me.
So it is my confession that the way of Christ isn’t my default setting, and that it is the grace and mercy of God that finds me asleep, and awakens in me a desire to “ . . . know him and the power of his resurrection, sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). O, to be made new, to be set free from my own ambitions, so that I might follow in his way, that my life might experience his love and make it known everywhere I go.
This is a meditation I wrote for Lent years ago . . .
I Fell Asleep At Gethsemane
I fell asleep at Gethsemane and I dreamed about my life
Poured out in empty portions again and again
Into an idol sea of amusement.
In this garden I am dreaming of my heroic better self
Overcoming the fatal flaw of self-deception
That I might rise above every calculation of fear.
In a curl beneath an olive tree at a safe distance from the night watch
I lay imagining the details of my life arranging themselves
Into proportionally meaningful shapes.
With my head on this stone I begin to remember out of my slumber
The deep sorrow that brought me here
The passion of God and all the tears He has cried since creation.
I fell asleep at Gethsemane
Awaken me Lord
That I might be with you awhile