March 17, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: Agony in the garden

See Matthew 26:31-46, Mark 14:27-42, Luke 22:31-46

At the end of Jesus’ Last Supper, he led his Apostles to Gethsemane at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. To get to their destination, they walked down a steep slope into the Valley of Ben Hinnon, also known as Gehenna, the “entrance to hell.” Jeremiah (Jer 7:31) tells us that it was here that the Israelites once burned their sons and daughters in the fire.

As they walked through what was then a desolate ravine, Jesus told them that on that night they would all scatter and leave him alone. Naturally, they denied that they would do any such thing, especially Peter. As we know, Jesus told Peter that Peter would even deny knowing Jesus three times before a rooster would crow to announce the dawn.

They then walked through the Kidron Valley, a very small valley with a creek that had running water that time of the year. At the foot of the Mount of Olives, they headed for a cave that contained an oil press for squeezing olives, hence the name Gat-Shmanim or Gethsemane. They apparently had stayed there before, and eight of the Apostles stayed in the cave. But Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a nearby olive grove. There was a massive stone there and he prostrated himself there in utter agony.

The three men who earlier had seen him transfigured now saw him at his human worst. He knew what physical pain and humiliation faced him, even if the Apostles didn’t. He begged his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” but accepted his Father’s will.

Surely at this time, Satan returned to tempt Jesus as Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ portrayed. Jesus knew that in only about 15 minutes he could have climbed the Mount of Olives and been on his way to the Judean dessert. That must have been a powerful temptation. But he remained.

Jesus’ agony consisted of more than the bodily torments he was about to undergo. He suffered because he had taken upon himself the sins of all humanity. As the prophet Isaiah had foretold (Is 53:4-6): “It was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.”

During his agony, his most trusted Apostles fell asleep. Jesus was all alone; he already felt deserted. He woke them up and said to Peter, “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” He encouraged them to pray, as he was doing, that they might not find temptation too great. “The spirit is willing,” he said, “but the flesh is weak.”

By the time his betrayer arrived, the conflict within Jesus was over. God had at least strengthened him enough that he was again master of himself and his circumstances. †



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