The Garden of Gethsemane

The anxiety Jesus expresses at Gethsemane is not about the whips that will beat him or the nails that will pierce his hands. He is pained and anxious about the aloneness he is facing, how he will be betrayed and abandoned by those who profess to love him. — Credit: MIKE NELSON/MISSION SAN RAFAEL ARCÁNGEL

Several years ago, Mel Gibson produced and directed a movie which enjoyed a spectacular popularity, “The Passion of the Christ.”

The movie depicts Jesus' paschal journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to his death on Golgotha, but with a very heavy emphasis on his physical suffering. In graphic detail the movie shows what someone who was being crucified might have had to endure in terms of being physically beaten, tortured, and humiliated.

While most church groups applauded the film and suggested that, finally, someone made a movie that truly depicted Jesus' suffering, many Scripture scholars and spiritual writers were critical of the movie. Why? What's wrong with showing, at length and in graphic detail, the blood and gore of the Crucifixion — which, indeed, must have been pretty horrific?

What's wrong (or better, perhaps, amiss) is that this is precisely what the Gospel accounts of Jesus' death don't do. All four Gospels take pains to not focus on the physical sufferings of Jesus. Their descriptions of his physical sufferings are stunningly brief: "They crucified him with the two criminals." "Pilate had Jesus scourged and handed him over to be crucified."

Why the brevity here? Why no detailed description?

The reason that the evangelists don't focus us on what Jesus was enduring physically is that they want us to focus something else: what Jesus was enduring emotionally and morally. The passion of Jesus is, in its real depth, a moral drama, not a physical one; the suffering of a lover, not that of an athlete.

Thus we see that, when Jesus is anticipating his passion, the anxiety he expresses is not about the whips that will beat him or the nails that will pierce his hands. Rather, he is pained and anxious about the aloneness he is facing, how he will be betrayed and abandoned by those who profess to love him, and how he will, in the wonderful phraseology of Gil Bailie, be "unanimity-minus-one.”

That the passion of Jesus is a love-drama is also evident in its setting. It begins with him sweating blood in a garden — and ends with him being buried in a garden. Jesus is sweating blood in a garden, not in an arena. What's significant about a garden?

In archetypal symbolism, gardens are not for growing vegetables or even for growing flowers. Gardens are for lovers, the place to experience delight, the place to drink wine, the place where Adam and Eve were naked and didn't know it, the place where one makes love.

And so the evangelists place the beginning and the end of Jesus' passion in a garden to emphasize that it is Jesus, as lover (not Jesus as King, or Magus, or Prophet) who is undergoing this drama. What precisely was the drama?

When Jesus is sweating blood in the Garden and begging his Father to spare him having to "drink the cup," the real choice he is facing is not, “Will I let myself die or will I invoke divine power and save my life?” Rather, the choice was, "How will die? Will I die angry, bitter, and unforgiving, or will I die with a warm, forgiving heart?"

Of course, we know how Jesus resolved this drama, how he chose forgiveness and died forgiving his executioners, and how, inside all that darkness, he remained solidly inside the message that he had preached his whole ministry, namely, that ultimately love, community and forgiveness triumph.

Moreover, what Jesus did in that great moral drama is something we're supposed to imitate rather than simply admire, because that drama is also ultimately the drama of love within our own lives, presenting itself to us in countless ways.

At the end of our lives, how will we die? Will our hearts be angry, clinging, unforgiving and bitter at the unfairness of life? Or will our hearts be forgiving, grateful, empathic and warm, as was the heart of Jesus when he said to his Father, “Not my will but yours be done”?

And this is not just one major choice we face at the hour of death; it is also a choice we face daily, many times daily. Countless times in our daily interactions with others, our families, our colleagues, our friends and with society at large, we suffer moments of coldness, misunderstanding, unfairness and positive violation — from the indifference of a family member to our enthusiasm, to a sarcastic comment that is intended to hurt us, to a gross unfairness in our workplace, to being the victim of a prejudice or abuse.

Our kitchen tables, our workplaces, our meeting rooms and the streets we share with others are all places where we daily experience, in small and big ways, what Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane, unanimity-minus-one. In that darkness, will we let go of our light? In the face of hatred, will we let go of love?

That — not the ropes, whips and nails — is the real drama of “The Passion of the Christ.”

 

Oblate of Mary Immaculate Father Ronald Rolheiser is a specialist in the field of spirituality and systematic theology. His website is www.ronrolheiser.com.


Voices

Seeking the face of God in the Scriptures

Archbishop José H. Gomez

Prayer is seeking the face of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recalls the story of how St. John Vianney once found a peasant praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The saint asked him what he was doing, and the man replied: “I look at him and he looks at me.”

Events

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February 13, 2016

  • Saturday, February 13

    World Day of the Sick Mass, Mass and Anointing of the Sick, 12:30 p.m., Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels,  555 W Temple St, Los Angeles. Archbishop Gomez presiding with other bishops and priests. Special section designated for those in wheelchairs with volunteers available to help. Limited parking available for $8. Carpooling is encouraged. For more info: Chuck Huebner at cjhuebner @gmail.com or Jim LoCoco at flavialococ0@msn.com.

     

     

    Bosco Tech’s Yurak Memorial Run & Kids’ Fun Run, Check in begins at 8 a.m., Memorial Run at 9 a.m., Fun Run at 10 a.m., Bosco Tech, 1151 San Gabriel Blvd., Rosemead. Race registration is $35 per person. For school groups of 10 or more, the cost is $30. To register online, go to www.boscotech.edu/events or www.yurak.eventbrite.com; same-day registration available at check-in table. Included: racing fees, finisher medal, goodie bag and BBQ lunch. Plaques will be awarded to the top five male and female runners and to the fastest runner under 18.All proceeds to benefit Bosco Tech’s Yurak Athletic Center (YAC). 

     

    Cabrini Literary Guild “Sweetheart Bingo” Meeting, Sat., Feb.13 at Oakmont Country Club, 3100 Country Club Drive, Glendale. Meeting starts at 11 a.m., lunch at 12 p.m. ($30/person), and bingo social at 1 p.m. Bingo cards are $5 each, or $20 for five cards. For reservations, call (818) 790-3485.

     

    Footprints: Making Tracks for Neighbors in Need, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m., Bishop Amat High School track, 14301 Fairgrove Ave., La Puente. Catholic Charities San Gabriel Region will present this annual walk/run fundraiser to increase awareness about poverty, hunger and homelessness in the San Gabriel Region. Proceeds benefit those lacking basic needs, such as food, clothing, transportation and shelter. This is a come anytime, leave anytime event, with the first lap around the track to be led by Bishop David O'Connell. For more information, visit lentenfootprints.yolasite.com or contact Mary Romero at (213) 251-3582 or mromero@ccharities.org.

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