Though Holy Week presents so many opportunities for reflection, I found myself focusing on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, wondering what was going through his mind in the hours before his arrest. Of course, there is no way of actually knowing what he was feeling or what distressed him the most, but my musings play with some possibilities which I hope you will find helpful.
The poem to the left of this text represents my exploration of what Jesus might have been thinking during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The Jesus I present in this poem is not limited by human consciousness; rather, he is omniscient, able to see both the events to come in his own life, and also the horrors humanity will continue to inflict on one another and on the Earth after his death-- not only wars but all the violence stemming from greed, hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism, classism, anti-immigrant policies, the complete indifference to the fate of the poor....
For me, this level of "knowing" creates greater pathos and gives the Passion narratives a cosmic dimension; rather than being "just about Jesus," the story of his Passion, Death and Resurrection becomes a cosmic drama upon which the fate of the world depends.
A Blessed Triduum!
PS Alas, both my laptop and desktop crashed last week and I am still unable to upload video reflections!
Then going out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. When they arrived, he said to them, "Pray that you may not undergo the test."
After withdrawing about a stone's throw away, he knelt down and prayed, saying, "Father, if it is your will, take
this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." Then to strengthen him, an angel from heaven appeared. Jesus was in such agony and prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground. When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said, "Why are you asleep? Get up and pray that you may not be put to the test." Lk 22:39-46
The Human Response to Anticipated Suffering
It is only human to dread an unpleasant situation, whether it be a challenging confrontation or a surgical procedure, whether it means being separated from loved ones or serving as the bearer of sad news. If we know in advance about an ordeal that lies ahead, it is difficult focusing on other matters; instead, we tend to become preoccupied with the situation, wondering how we might avoid it or at least make it more tolerable. Until the ordeal is behind us, it is often all we can think about, talk about or care about.
Scriptural Portrayals of Jesus as All-Knowing
All the passion narratives portray a Jesus who is well aware of what his future holds, but whose main concern is not himself but his disciples. The synoptic gospels, for example, present three occasions on which Jesus predicts his passion, death and resurrection (Mk 8;31, 9:31, 10:32-34; Matt 16:21-22, 17:22-23, 20:17-19; Lk 9:22, 9:44, 18:31-34); there is no expression of self-pity or dread when he informs his followers of what is yet to come, but, rather, a concern that they understand and be prepared. Now, whether the predictions reflect Jesus' actual words or whether the evangelists included the predictions in their narratives to reflect the early church's understanding of the Cross as part of salvation history, they still suggest that Jesus knew he was going suffer a violent death. All four accounts of the Last Supper also indicate that Jesus had prior knowledge that Judas would betray him, that Peter would deny him and that the end was at hand. From the texts, we can assume that by the time he and his disciples headed to the Mount of Olives, he expected that his arrest was imminent.
The Mind of Christ
What Jesus actually knew about the future, of course, is a mystery. There are those who believe that Jesus' knowledge would have been limited by his humanity; while he was highly intuitive and could read people's hearts as well as the signs of the times, he would not have known much beyond that-- certainly not a minute by minute, blow by blow account of his approaching Passion. Then there are those who believe that Jesus, in his divinity, would have been omniscient -- that his knowledge would have extended from present tense to everything that had happened in the past to everything that would happen in the future, stretching from before the creation of the world to the Second Coming and beyond. How each of us understands what was on Jesus' mind in the Garden of Gethsemane will color our individual responses to his suffering, death and resurrection.
From a Human Perspective
If we hold that Jesus' consciousness had limits, then our interpretation of the Passion becomes a very human drama in which Jesus anticipated ridicule, torture and execution without fully knowing the details. His agony in the garden would have therefore been based on his sense of dread over what was to befall him. Of course, it is entirely possible that he may have become aware of his fate as he prayed. Anyone who makes prayer a priority knows that God does indeed reveal what we need to know when we "tune in" to the Divine frequency. Seen this way, while Jesus had a human consciousness, the revelations that surfaced in prayer would have prepared him for what was to come; in other words, rather than being omniscient, Jesus could have received knowledge "from above."
The Suffering Servant
On the other hand, if we believe that Jesus could, indeed, see all things, then his Passion becomes all the more horrific. What he suffered in Gethsemane was not so much about
journey to the Cross as it was about crucified humanity -- all the wars, violence, genocides. cruelty, betrayals and destruction that were still to come, despite his self-sacrifice. While his disciples slept, he wrestled with himself, finally accepting God's will. What made him sweat so profusely was the weight of the world's sin which he now carried on his shoulders. From this moment of total surrender onward, his Passion became a cosmic passion in which he, the Suffering Servant, was now
in need of redemption:
If we see the Passion as something that "happened" to Jesus as a result of his teachings and miracles, then our primary response will be one of pity and compassion. During Holy Week, we will journey with him from his entry into Jerusalem to the empty tomb, with a sense of solemnity and sorrow, followed by relief and rejoicing as Easter dawns. Conversely, if we believe that Jesus accepted the path to Golgotha in full consciousness of what he would suffer and that he did so for our sake, then perhaps a different response is called for -- a recognition on our part as to how deeply we have offended God and how indebted we are to the one who paid the price for our transgressions. In this light, each of our life stories becomes part of the subtext of the Passion narrative: we are the invisible but guilty cast of characters, no more innocent than Judas the betrayer, Peter the denier, the cowardly disciples, the contemptuous soldiers, the bloodthirsty crowd, the scheming religious leaders or the weak-kneed Pilate. Our focus for Holy Week, then, is not just about the dying and rising of Jesus, but about our own dying to sin and rising to new life through the power of amazing grace.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- What do YOU think went through Jesus' mind in the Garden of Gethsemane? What was it that distressed him so deeply?
- To what extent is your typical observance of Holy Week about Jesus and to what extent is it about your own experience of Paschal Mystery?
- What words and images from the Passion narratives stand out to you the most fully this year? How do these words and images resonate with your own life experience?