Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reflections on the Agony in the Garden

Luke 22:

[39] And going out, he went, according to his custom, to the mount of Olives. And his disciples also followed him. [40] And when he was come to the place, he said to them: Pray, lest ye enter into temptation.

[41] And he was withdrawn away from them a stone's cast; and kneeling down, he prayed, [42] Saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. [43] And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. [44] And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. [45] And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow.

[46] And he said to them: Why sleep you? arise, pray, lest you enter into temptation.

Mark 14:

[32] And they came to a farm called Gethsemani. And he saith to his disciples: Sit you here, while I pray. [33] And he taketh Peter and James and John with him; and he began to fear and to be heavy. [34] And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. [35] And when he was gone forward a little, he fell flat on the ground; and he prayed, that if it might be, the hour might pass from him.

[36] And he saith: Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: remove this chalice from me; but not what I will, but what thou wilt. [37] And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping. And he saith to Peter: Simon, sleepest thou? couldst thou not watch one hour? [38] Watch ye, and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. [39] And going away again, he prayed, saying the same words. [40] And when he returned, he found them again asleep, (for their eyes were heavy,) and they knew not what to answer him.

[41] And he cometh the third time, and saith to them: Sleep ye now, and take your rest. It is enough: the hour is come: behold the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Matthew 26:

[36] Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray. [37] And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. [38] Then he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me. [39] And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. [40] And he cometh to his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me?

[41] Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak. [42] Again the second time, he went and prayed, saying: My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done. [43] And he cometh again and findeth them sleeping: for their eyes were heavy. [44] And leaving them, he went again: and he prayed the third time, saying the selfsame word. [45] Then he cometh to his disciples, and saith to them: Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.

This is, in my opinion, one of the most powerful scenes of the Bible. Sin and death entered the world through Adam in the Garden of Eden, the bright and perfect garden, and now all sin will be conquered  through Christ, the new Adam, in the garden of Gethsemane, which is dark and unwelcoming.
The three, Peter James and John, are seen to represent the temptation we all have towards lukewarmness. We take small steps of spiritual progress and are tempted to look at it as "good enough". It never is. We can never do enough for our God. When we look at our own efforts as good enough, we too fall asleep. Worse still, we have already been called to stay awake by our Lord. "Stay you here, and watch with me." "Pray, lest ye enter into temptation." In the face of Jesus' constant reminders to keep watch, we still fall back into lukewarm contentedness and cease to look upon the suffering of our God. We refuse to look at our own sin, which has been taken entirely into Christ, and instead we close our eyes and exist only for ourselves. Even when He comes and wakes us up, we still do not listen.
Yet, this is precisely why Jesus came. He came so that He could wake us up time after time after time. On our own, we slumber in death and darkness, but Jesus has taken that to Himself so that we, if we choose to follow Him, can wake up and keep watch.

This suffering of Jesus in the garden is recalled again only in His Passion which is to come shortly. Christ's human nature is tormented by the suffering that He knows he must endure. He too does not want to suffer, but unlike us who avoid our trials, Jesus embraced His because it was the will of the Father.
Jesus at this point experiences the entire suffering of humanity, and takes it all into Himself. He takes all the sin and pain and betrayal and brokenness into His own soul to that He can allow us to overcome it with Him.
In Pope Benedict's new volume of Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, the Holy Father goes into great depth regarding the parallels between the prayer of Jesus and the Psalms. Every word of Jesus is in fulfillment of the Old Testament, and His prayers perfect the Psalms that until that point had been only pointing towards He that would come.
Benedict says that the fear Christ experiences is "the primordial fear of created nature in the face of imminent death, and yet there is more: the particular horror felt by him who is Life itself before the abyss of the full power of destruction, evil, and enmity with God that is now unleashed upon him, that he now takes directly upon himself, or rather into himself, to the point that he is "made to be sin" (cf. 2 Cor 5:21)."
Since Jesus Christ is God, He sees and experiences the evil of our world in its entirety, through all time, at this one moment, and He experiences it not only in its entirety, but also with more perfect clarity than we can ever know, and more than we could ever experience. It is necessary that He must experience this totality of sin and death, that He may conquer it in His sacrifice.
The sins of every last member of Creation is felt individually at that very moment by our Lord. Every single failing and turning away and rejection is felt in all its depraved horror, and yet He took it willingly, knowing that He did so to redeem us. He did so out of unimaginable love for us, totally in spite of our constant failures, because we belong to Him.

Jesus' prayer is also the most critical passage for our understanding of the Hypostatic Union, that is, that "in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the Divine and the human", yet that the Son of God is one Person, not two, just as the other two Persons, the Father and the Holy Ghost, are of one substance. Jesus embodies the perfection of human will and Divine will. In us they are frequently opposed, but in Jesus they are in perfect harmony. He is untainted by sin, and therefore His orientation towards the Divine will is unhindered by the world and by evil. In Jesus is the perfected, fulfilled humanity that we achieve only in death, so as to rise again and live forever. The human element is not suppressed, or hidden, or subordinated, but is perfected and completed. God becomes man so that men might become gods (St. Athanasius). Jesus does this through radical obedience, which is the ideal towards which our human natures originally were to be ordered.
In this very short passage, Jesus shows both His true humanity through His recognition and perfection of free will, and His Divinity, when He again addresses God as Abba. The use of "Abba" displays His relationship with God, as a Son, and as consubstantial with the Father.

These passages must be seen as the final step towards the death of Christ. Here in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus takes into Himself all sin and all death. Just as He invites Peter and James and John, He too invites us personally to stay awake and keep watch. He calls us to constant vigilance, that we might turn away from sin, and contemplate only Him.
In Him, and only in Him, may we be perfected. God became man so that men might become gods.

All quotations are from the Douay Rheims translation of the Holy Bible. Themes are borrowed from Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection by Pope Benedict XVI.

1 comment:

  1. Nice. Whenever I pray the Rosary, there are a few mysteries with which I have particular affinity. One is the Annunciation, because it always feels so joyful and beautiful to contemplate. On the flip side of that is this mystery, the agony. To sit and fully immerse oneself in all that Jesus must have felt, the fear and the sorrow, the terrible sorrow. To contemplate the agony is to see what it is to fully invest into the essence of humanity, to see the ugliness and the bitterness and still manage to find love and compassion. I think this mystery, uniquely, causes me to see and experience God's love in a way that I can almost understand. Well done, my friend.