That Jesus accepted the Father’s will at every moment of his life is not in question. That he submitted to the yoke of the Roman occupation and to the authority of the Levitical priesthood is clear from a number of incidents recorded in the gospels. What we are more concerned with here is with such everyday circumstances as we might ourselves experience. His patience must often have been tried by the obtuseness of his disciples, by the tepid service given to the Father on the part of those who considered themselves religious, by the disappointments he met with in his work, by the legalism and exaggerated ritualism which prevailed everywhere he turned, by the want of consistency and above all by the absence of love.
What our Lord was unable to correct he put up with. In this he was not compromising or condoning: he was reconciling the immediate with the eternal, he was referring the actual outcome of God’s gifts to man to God himself whose will it was that man should use the gifts freely. Jesus could have overthrown the Roman Empire and he surrendered and left everything in God’s hands. The Father must be allowed to do things in his own way and in his own time. Failing to learn from Christ’s example, we resist the dispositions of divine providence, and feel frustrated, discouraged, disillusioned. We would do better to bow to the limitations of the inevitable, and to work constructively on the existing material. The ideal is not the realization of what we have planned but the supernaturalizing of what lies to hand.
There is a Greek legend which tells of a people living on an island who were warned by one of the gods that a great wave would soon sweep over them bringing total destruction. The islanders, assembling together to discuss how the impending disaster might be met, sought the advice of the island’s elders. The first wise man to get up suggested that a temple to the gods should be built and though it would not be finished in time, the undertaking would at least show that divine favor was invoked, which would ensure a propitious standing in the after life. The second elder to be consulted gave his opinion that if all the inhabitants, forgetting their differences, were to open their doors in hospitality, the gods would reward them by keeping them together in the next world and thus sparing them from the loneliness of death. The third wise man was very old, and when the matter was at some length made clear to him, he said, We must learn to live under water.
The terms of human existence are given us by God. We are born into a fallen world; we grow up with the grand ideas of bettering this fallen world; we find in later life that our hopes have come to nothing, that our efforts have been wasted, that there is not a thing we can do about it. Either we make the act of faith or sulk. Our Lord could have avoided disappointment but he went ahead and accepted it. He could have avoided temptation but endured it. Saint Paul, after experiencing disappointment and temptation, was able to say, In whatever state I am I am content therewith. Contentment – so much easier to gauge than happiness – comes of surrender and not of achievement, not in the fulfilling of desires but in the seeing God’s hand in the dealing of the cards.